Onus is on Prasarana to play its part

WITH public transport poised for major improvements, much attention is being paid to the largest player in the business, the wholly government-owned Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd. It operates about 800 buses in the Klang Valley, and it also owns and runs two other major public transport systems, the two lines of the light rail transit (LRT) service and the Kuala Lumpur monorail.

Not only are there concerns that the public transport services it provides are not at the levels they should be at, the management of Prasarana has been called into question in the past.

Prasarana was set up in 2003 as part of the Government’s initiative to revamp the public transportation system. Its subsidiaries own and operate the Klang Valley’s LRT systems, the bus fleet servicing the Klang Valley and Penang, and the Kuala Lumpur monorail system.

But Prasarana has had financial problems. As at end-2009, Prasarana group debts totalled a hefty RM9.64bil. It has been reported that Prasarana had incurred millions in losses from 2005 to 2007, due to poor management. Accumulated losses as at Dec 31, 2007 were RM839.81mil.

Prasarana’s group managing director Datuk Idrose Mohamed says Prasarana carries out a huge public service and runs on routes that private buses do not wish to ply.

“Our objective is to provide reliable services to all, whether the routes are profitable or not, and we also maintain the regularity off-peak hours. Most of the other operators only concentrate on the high density routes and peak hours,” he says.

Still, there are as many as 15 licensed bus operators in the Klang Valley, making competition very stiff. In some of most popular routes, there can be up to six bus companies vying for the same passengers.

Hence, questions have now arisen as to whether this is the best structure for public transport. One of the plans of the recently formed SPAD is to study how to best structure the running of public buses.

It is understood that SPAD does not rule out recommending to the Government, systems that are in practice in countries like Australia, where different routes are tendered out to private operators, who will be paid a fixed fee based on the distance they run. All revenues from pre-paid bus tickets will go to government coffers. It remains unclear how these new plans, if implemented, will impact Prasarana.

On public complaints, Idrose says RapidKL has more than often been the punching bag whenever there was a hiccup in public transportation, adding that they only control about half of the public bus services in the Klang Valley.

“The other half belongs to the various private bus operators and it will take a concerted effort of everyone in the industry to improve the situation.

“It’s now about winning back the public’s confidence to rely on public transport,” he said.

Meanwhile, some of the efforts Prasarana is taking to improve its services include increasing the number of buses in the city (including feeder buses) but Idrose says one should not expect overnight change as it takes time to train good drivers.

He says Prasarana has already ordered 400 buses, of which half will be in service by the end of the year and which are intended to increase the frequency in its existing routes.

“The rest will come in gradually when we are already have adequate number of drivers. For 40 buses, we need at least 80 drivers, and we also have to train the drivers at our academy for three months, where the passing rate is about 70%.

“Thus, it may be quite easy to acquire the buses, but it our responsibility that they are driven by well-trained drivers,” he told StarBizWeek.

Idrose said Prasarana currently operated about 800 buses in the Klang Valley and some parts of Selangor.

“But, about 100 of the buses on average needs to be at the depot on a daily basis for maintenance.”

Going forward, Idrose says Prasarana also plans to order another 450 buses next year just to provide services to the areas not yet covered by the company.

“We are also increasing the feeder buses and have ordered about 70 eight-metre long buses (shorter than the usual size) to go into housing areas that have narrower roads,” he adds.

In terms of frequency, Idrose says Prasarana maintains a regular and systematic intervals even during off-peak hours. “We provide the service even in “unprofitable” routes because it is our social duty.”

On Thursday, Prasarana announced that the first phase of the main construction works for the estimated RM7bil LRT extension is expected to start in November and to be completed in three years’ time. The first phase would see 9.2km and 7.39km of construction length respectively.

The total extension length of the Kelana Jaya Line is 17km, while that of Ampang Line is 17.7km. Each extension will have an additional 13 stations.

Idrose adds that Prasarana has also introduced an initiative to inculcate public transport usage culture among youths with Rapidpass Pelajar, besides its usual Rapidpass, which allows unlimited usage for 30 days on RapidKL bus and LRT services as well as the monorail.

Rapidpass Pelajar provides 50% discount over the already discounted Rapidpass.

“We are also working on seamless LRT lines transfer where commuters who change LRT lines do not have to scan their pass or pay separately at the Masjid Jamek station, where both of the lines converge. This can be achieved in another 10 to 15 months,” Idrose says, adding that Prasarana is also continuously working to provide more escalators, toilets and other facilities for the comfort of commuters.

“We also welcome the incorporation of the Land Public Transport Commission that act as a one-stop centre for public transportation matters.”

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