IT is no surprise that discussions concerning public transport evoke a lot of passion and emotion among just about everyone, as this writer has come to realise over the last week researching for this piece.
There are a multitude of stakeholders, ranging from the average man in the street, to existing operators, to Government officials overseeing transport, specialist firms with their attractive proposals and to politicians who realise that the state of public transport weighs heavily on the minds of the rakyat.
At the crux of it all lies this glaring reality: that the state of public transport in the Klang Valley and in fact the rest of the country, is in a bit of a mess. Only about 12% of journeys in the city during peak periods are via public transport, compared with about 90% in the city of London.
But coming from such a low base, there is a huge opportunity to get things right, learning from past mistakes, most of which have been very costly ones.
Here are some of those mistakes that hopefully will not be repeated in the name of public transport development in Malaysia:
·There should not be any large scale bail-out of public transport companies. A massive amount has already been spent by the Government in bailing out the two light rapid transit (LRT) operators and the monorail project. While no one is questioning the importance of having public transport systems running, the issue is that the initial financial planning models by these operators were faulty and yet the Government allowed them to proceed with these projects, only to fork out a lot of money later to salvage these transport systems. Hence, a lot of effort should go into working out the financing plans from the early stage of any mega transport project. It is expected that the Government should pay for most of these systems but it should ensure that it is doing so in the most efficient manner, with the least amount of excesses and wastage. Transport must not be seen as a means to gain unreasonable profits, on the basis that it is a justifiable cause for the Government to sink money into.
·There should be stricter control of licences or permits. It does seem that there are too many bus and taxi permits issued, with not much thought given to the overall planning of the industry. For example, there are more than 200 bus companies operating in Malaysia. In the Klang Valley alone, there are 12 companies operating stage buses. Jakarta, with a population of 16 million, has gone through a overhaul of its bus systems resulting in a much higher usage of bus services. It has only six private operators and is highly regulated by the government.
·Transport systems should not be built in isolation of each other. The attempts at integration of the LRT, monorail and other modes of public transport and bus systems has been an after-thought. It should have been a key focus in the planning and design of these systems.
·Existing infrastructure should be maximised before the country embarks on any mega transport projects. More could be extracted from bus services and in this regard, many of the plans as stipulated in the Urban Public Transport National Key Result Area initiative are spot on.
·The newly formed Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) does seem like a step in the right direction, with regard to regulation and planning and management of public transport in Malaysia. However, its biggest task is going to be enforcing its findings and plans on the myriad of other stakeholders in the public transport system in Malaysia. Hopefully SPAD will conduct its duties without fear or favour and that there will be the political will to see through SPAD’s mission.
The amount of money that is going to be spent on revamping public transport could top RM50bil and the MRT project will take up the bulk of that. If it takes off, it will be the largest infrastructure project in Malaysia ever. With so much at stake, there must be assurance to the public that it is planned and implemented in the most cost effective and transparent manner and that all goes according to plan.