Shahril eyes some big wins

  • Business
  • Saturday, 05 Mar 2011

Since he joined Syarikat Prasanara Negara Bhd in October last year, group managing director Shahril Mokhtar (pic) has been riding the city's light rail transit, if there is a station near his destination, and using other forms of public transport a lot more than before. Shahril is serious about wanting to know how public transportation can be improved.

In late January this year, Prasarana embarked on a Go Forward Plan for the transformation of the organisation to realise its vision of world-class public transport operator.

Prasarana's vision is to increase public transport usage through reliable, affordable, proficient, integrated and dynamic services on a sustainable basis from the current 17% to 25% by the end of next year. To achieve this vision as part of the Go Forward Plan framework Prasarana has come out with five thrusts- customers, operation, financial, stakeholders and employees. Excerpts from an interview with StarBizWeek:

SBW: What are the changes that Prasarana will do and the improvement it hopes to achieve in the near term?

Shahril: We hope to achieve some big wins by the third quarter of this year.

For the LRT, we have received 24 of our four-car trains, 20 are already being used.

By April, we should receive the last of the 35 sets of four-car train. With this four-car train, there will be greater passenger comfort; ridership has already increased.

For the Kelana Jaya Line, the average daily ridership during peak hours jumped by 40% in January year-on-year to 47,714.

There is also significant increase in ridership for the Ampang Line in January year-on-year.

Interestingly, we have also managed to shorten the LRT peak hour headway or frequency to two minutes and 15 seconds from two minutes and 50 seconds before November last year.

This means that we are ahead of the National Key Result Areas target to achieve two minutes and 30 seconds for headway time by the end of 2012.

And by the end of third quarter this year, we are integrating the ticketing system for our LRTs- Kelana Jaya Line, Ampang Line and the monorail. Passengers do not have to purchase separate tickets to get on and off of three lines. Currently, only via the Touch N'Go system mode can passengers travel seamlessly. The integration stations involved are Masjid Jamek for Kelana Jaya Line and Ampang Line, Titiwangsa station for Ampang Line and the monorail as well as Hang Tuah station for Ampang Line and the monorail.

We are also looking into the park-and-ride aspect for the LRT. For the Ampang station, we will upgrade this facility to cater for 1,200 cars by middle of next year from 260 cars currently.

Also at the end of the third quarter, we will also have fleet tracking system fitted to all of our buses. We will place LED boards at major and secondary bus hubs that will display the bus number and estimated time of arrival.

For the smaller bus-stops, we will place a board with a phone number so that the public can enquire about the bus number and estimated time of arrival.

Once the system has stabilised, we will look into the short message system (SMS) to handle customer enquiries.

We are also be receiving all 470 new buses by the end of the third quarter this year to add to our 1,200 buses plying the Klang Valley now.

Of the 470, about 70 buses are shorter buses of eight metres in length for narrow roads, especially those in certain residential areas, as opposed to our standard 12-metre buses. If this shorter buses work out well, we will order more.

Each bus costs between RM400,000 and RM500,000.

What is the ideal number of buses needed in the Klang Valley for our public transport service to be reliable?

This is where SPAD should play a major role. The question also leads me to another area - there has never been a proper study to look into the supply and demand of passengers acquiring public transport services.

What has been happening since the past 15 years is that bus licences have been issued and lucrative routes are the aim of all operators as they want to make make money. This has to change as all operators are concentrating on lucrative routes while those with less ridership are neglected.

Nevertheless, having more buses on the road is not the ultimate solution either as there are two factors we must consider to change the landscape of our public transportation.

The first factor is the infrastructure aspects, such as the fleet tracking system and bus lanes (the Government is currently undertaking a six-month study on this).

The second factor is the policy has to change- the networks and the way business is being done have to be restructured like those in Seoul.

Seoul was like us where it had about 50 bus operators plying on lucrative routes. But situation got worse as operational cost became a burden and one after another, the bus companies collapsed.

So what do we need in Klang Valley?

SPAD must take the lead in forming a new policy and one option. In my opinion, it should be like this. Let's say after the supply and demand study, the Government concludes that for route A, a company needs 20 buses with operational cost of RM3mil.

The Government should pay the RM3mil to the company on a staggered basis with a set of KPIs for the company to abide by.

Once the company has met or exceeded that limit, it will get an incentive from the Government on top of the payment of RM3mil plus a margin of 10% to 15%.

But, the revenue or collection of the route should go back to the Government. Now the bus companies are not fighting for routes but service to meet the KPIs.

It has succeeded in Australia and Seoul and I think the regulator should look into this.

What about the issue funding?

Enhance asset value and property. Under the MRT project, the infrastructure will be a huge investment. There must be a way for the Government to reduce its exposure to cost. One of the areas is rail and property concept. We are doing a study, that out of 51 km, we have to identify a few parcels (of land) and whereby the land can be developed into commercial and residential projects. We can partner with property developers and profits from the the development could be shared.

Hong Kong has done this for the last 20 years.

There is no proper fare mechanism. The last fare increase was 2004. So there is a need for an operator to find other sources of revenue. There are two ways, the first is land transport revenue and the second is property. These properties can be around the station or on top of the stations. It can be rented or sold.

Companies can provide the development and the profits returned to the Government

When do you expect to break even?

We are still looking at the numbers and we are looking at a self-sustaining model. My target is within five years, say by 2015.

Will fares be cheaper with all the integration and improvement?

As of now there are no plans to increase fares. That is a highly sensitive issue . To integrate there is a cost element and we want the commuters to enjoy it and then we will look at what we need to do.

Please explain the process of selecting and buying buses in the past and now?

I cannot comment on the past. But now, we are very transparent and have a open tender process and we are clear on that. There are negotiations at various levels to get the best value for our money and we know the suppliers. We are buying 470 new buses this year and so far have taken delivery of 30 buses.

Can you pull though the integration when the odds are against you?

The timing is so right. The way I look at it is that even the Prime Minister is so serious about the upgrading and integration of the urban transport system and it is one of the projects listed in the NKRA. We are looking at a time frame of 10 years when we would be like Singapore and Hong Kong in terms of level of service. I would be very happy then as they are world class and we want to be world class too. This is the time to make the change.

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