Prasarana MD walks the talk

  • Business
  • Saturday, 05 Mar 2011

SHAHRIL Mokhtar walks the talk by commuting on the rail be it to work, home or meetings anywhere in the Klang Valley.

And his apartment is just behind a LRT station.

He is the group managing director of Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd and since he began commuting, he says “people are smiling more because the frequency is higher and there are less problems than there used to be.'' Prasarana is a wholly-owned unit of Minister of Finance Inc and he rides on the rails that the company he manages.

To achieve that small win, he had to do town hall meetings with 6,800 employees when he came on board. Getting the buy-in from employees was key as the issues facing Prasarana are aplenty.

Commuters find the services unreliable as there are frequent delays and breakdowns. The feeder bus services do not cover all areas and are often late and do not have proper time-tables. Operationally, the company is bleeding as its cost are too high and the approach taken by Prasarana is only act when there is a problem.

Prasarana's books are also tainted with red ink, and the perception is that there is no cure other than more money being pumped into its operations by the Government.

He had three major sessions where 4,500 people attended and it is at these meetings that he drummed the vision and mission of the company. His vision is for Prasarana to be a “world-class transportation system provider.'' His benchmark is the rail services in Singapore and Hong Kong, in terms of level of service.

“If we do not have this type of vision we would not change, so we have to place such expectations. I also want the public to know that we are trying to change. In terms of timing it is so right for the change, but it will take 10 years before we reach Singapore's level of service,'' he says.

Believe it or not, since he came on board, the Kelana Jaya line's average daily ridership during peak hours has jumped 40% year-on-year to 47,714 commuters.

These are small wins but his team needs the motivation to achieve bigger wins.

“Now problems are attended to quickly as we are more attentive, the service is also better,'' Shahril says in an interview with StarBizWeek.

He took over Prasarana's helm in October last year and his mandate is to transform the asset owner and operator of several public transport providers, namely the Ampang and Kelana Jaya lines, KL Monorail system, bus operations in the Klang Valley and Penang, as well as the cable car services in Langkawi.

Two months after he came on board, he dished out a two-year transformation plan while a 5-year master plan was crafted. He also restructured the management team, twigged the organisational structure and set a direction for the company.

The objective of the two-year plan is to transform the customer experience, improve operational efficiency and optimise cost, improve the financials, engage with stake holders and employees.

“We have to win the trust of the customer. If there is no trust it would be tough. We also need to change the perception of Prasarana,'' he says.

One of the many things he did was to organise an “MRT open day'' to educate and provide information to the public on the urban transportation integration system.

“Stake-holder management is key as we do not want any more knee-jerk reactions. That is why the reorganisation was important as we want our people to be pro-active and not reactive. The other thing is about identifying the stake-holders and managing them differently. We have to talk to each stake-holder group differently as there are many stock-holder groups involved,'' he said.

Turning to operations, he says the theme is “excellence.''

“We cannot be satisfied with what we have, we have to constantly challenge the statuesque. If we look at our cost items we can save cost from operations, maintenance, and procurement.

“We also need to enhance value but all these cannot be done overnight. I takes time,'' he adds.

With all the cost-cutting and optimisation in place, he says “it will still take time to break even, we are still looking at our numbers. But we should be self-sustaining in five years and not within the next two years.''

But he has shorter timelines for quick wins too.

He has set a timeline of the third quarter of this year. This is where he expects to achieve the integration of the three major lines Ampang Line, Kelana Jaya Line and Monorail at three stations which are Masjid Jamek, Titiwangsa and Hang Tuah. The number of buses will rise to 1,670 from 1,200 now; the buses will have a fleet tracking system to further improve their arrival timing.

For years, the much-talked about integration of the ticketing system between rails and buses has failed to materialise. But Shahril is confident that it will be implemented by the third quarter of 2011 and the frequency of the rails improve to 2 minutes 15 seconds from 2 minutes 50 seconds currently.

Prasarana will also be extending the two lines Kelana Jaya and Ampang by 17km each for RM7bil, and they will be completed in 30 and 27 months respectively. Contractors for the first phase of development have been appointed and for the second phase, a tender has been called. The closing date for the tender is mid-April.

He also side-stepped the notion that the Government is subsidising their operations fully.

“Yes, we are being subsidised because we receive fuel subsidy, but there are quotas and limits too. For everything else we raise our own financing and that is why we need to sell bonds.''

Over the next five years, Shahril says, Prasarana needs between RM5bil and RM10bil to fund the extension of the two lines, for infrastructure and the purchase of buses. Shahril says the company plans to raise bonds, but details are still sketchy on its timing and type of bonds.

There will be 13 new stations which will be equipped with all the necessary facilities such as lifts, escalators, surau and toilets and they will be friendly to the disabled.

Part of the future development would involve the enhancement of asset value. For that, it wants to work with property developers to develop the surrounding land within some stations whereby commercial and/or residential developments can take place to model stations in Hong Kong and Singapore. The idea behind this is to expand its revenue streams rather than relying only on ticket sales.

A feasibility report is being done by an international consulting firm.

“We will only begin talking to the developers in a year's time,'' Shahril says.

Does he have what it takes to pull this through?

“The timing is so right, and the PM is so serious about making a change to the urban transportation system, and we will have to work hard (to pull it through),'' he says.

Those who know him say: “He has been in the business for a long time and he has the expertise. With a proper plan, he would be able to execute it.''

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