Friday, March 4, 2011

Singapore’s transit beats Malaysia

Singapore’s transit beats Malaysia (FMT)
By Patrick Lee

March 3, 2011

Although just as bad 40 years ago, Singapore's traffic congestion has eased considerably and is today a transit-friendly state.

PETALING JAYA: Singapore’s traffic congestion was just as bad as Kuala Lumpur’s 40 years ago. However, the city-state’s transit situation has vastly improved, leaving its neighbour far behind.

Clear-cut transport policies helped to transform the island nation into a transit-friendly state, according to Association for the Improvement of Mass Transit chairman, Muhammad Zulkarnain Hamzah.

“Singapore was in the same position as KL 40 years ago. When Singapore split from Malaysia, it was actually suffering from pretty bad congestion,” he said.

Zulkarnain added that land was reserved for transit purposes, especially around Singapore’s HDB (Housing and Development Board) flats.

“They were built around the HDB flats. After that, everything just fell into place.”

“During that time, ample land was available,” Zulkarnain said, adding that the Singaporean government planned ahead.

Not meant for people

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s town planning, he said, was more car-centric than people-oriented.

“There is a considerable increase in private car ownership in Malaysia. As Malaysians become more affluent, they turned to cars,” Zulkarnain said.

“Because of that, the government built more roads, but they didn’t think about improving bus service at the same time.”

“There was no coordination or supporting infrastructure,” he added.

It also did not help that Malaysia lacked a truly central public transport authority, unlike Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA).

FMT previously reported that Malaysia never drafted a public transport masterplan since its Independence.

“Even if we did have a plan, I’m not sure if it would have been followed through 100%,” Zulkarnain said.

Better bus services

Zulkarnain also found it strange that the government was putting Singapore’s MRT on a pedestal, when most of the island’s public transport rested on its buses.

According to Singapore transit operator SBS Transit, the average daily ridership for buses clocked in at 2,499,764 in January 2011. Rail, on the other hand, was at 479,488.

The island nation’s second operator SMRT saw about 1.767 million ridership for rail during the same period. SMRT’s bus ridership came up to more than 921,000.

In sharp contrast, RapidKL’s average bus ridership is only 290,000 a day.

MRT viability

Zulkarnain also questioned the viability of the upcoming RM36 billion Mass Rail Transit (MRT) mega-project.

“If SPAD (Land Public Transport Commission) wants the MRT to be a viable form of public transport, then it needs to look at how MRT stations are developed,” the transit expert said.

“If the government cannot figure out how to integrate transit planning and public transport, then how is it going to get people to be accustomed to public transport?” he asked.

Zulkarnain also asked why the government was so eager to go ahead with the MRT, especially when it failed with the KTM Komuter.

“If the government cannot succeed with KTM Komuter, what makes it think that it can succeed with the MRT?” he asked.

“Why not optimise the KTM or improve on its infrastructure?”

Although pushed by the government as a solution to end KL traffic congestion once and for all, the MRT has come under fire from both the opposition and transit experts alike.

The lack of public consultation and aggressive pushing, and hefty price tag are some of the criticisms the MRT has faced in recent months.

The first phase of the MRT is expected to be completed by 2016. In tandem with this, the government announced its aim to increase transit usage to 25% by 2012.

Less than 20% of the Klang Valley residents use public transport; lower than many Asian countries.