Public transport planners are on the right track towards seamless connections.
WHEN it comes to public transportation, integration is the mother of all success.
Ample proof can be seen in cities like Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong, London and Singapore (just to name a few) where systems often offer seamless transitions from trains to buses to other modes, like walking, and so on.
Integration basically means that the entire public transport system can be used as seamlessly as possible across a local or regional area – which in Malaysia’s case would be cities like George Town, Ipoh, Kuantan, Malacca, Johor Baru, and areas such as the Klang Valley.
Given the great examples elsewhere in the developed world, it is evident that having an integrated public transport is a no-brainer, yet Malaysia has seen its fair share of failures in this regard.
It took 12 years for the Masjid Jamek interchange in Kuala Lumpur to become an interchange in the true sense – a single ticketing system and fully covered walkway did not exist from day one. In the bad old days, a commuter had to tap out, walk in the sun or rain across busy Jalan Tun Perak, and buy a new ticket in order to change between the Ampang (opened on Dec 16, 1996) and the Kelana Jaya (opened on June 1, 1999) lines. Full integration between the two lines was achieved only on Nov 28, 2011.
And then there is the absence of a direct connection between the major hub that is KL Sentral and the “KL Sentral” monorail station, which is about 400m away.
Word has it that a connection cutting through Nu Sentral, a commercial building built by the developer of KL Sentral, will open some time this year.
If that happens, we would have waited nearly 11 years for the connection, as the monorail started operating in August 2003.
All these shortcomings have been officially acknowledged now, especially by the Land Public Transport Commission (better known by the acronym SPAD, for Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat), set up on June 3, 2010, to improve and regulate land transport matters in the country.
“I am aware that the concept of integrated public transport has been talked about for a long time.
“Our previous problem with integration was because each system was developed in silos. There was no connectivity,” said SPAD chairman, Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar at the conclusion of the Second New Urbanism and Smart Transport Conference 2013 held in Kuala Lumpur last month.
However, SPAD is not wasting any time crying over spilt milk. In fact, the tone now is one of great confidence, which goes hand-in-hand with the multibillion ringgit investment in the Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT line, which is touted as the beginning of better days to come for public transport users in the Klang Valley.
Firstly, as the regulator and promoter of land-based public transport in the country, SPAD is brandishing its National Land Public Transport Master Plan, a document that received the approval of the Federal Government in October last year.
The master plan aims to ensure that 40% of all land transport within Malaysia is public by 2030. Currently, the share for public transport in Malaysia as a whole is about 5%; even in the Greater Kuala Lumpur area, which has the best public transport network in the entire country, the share is only about 20%, says Syed Hamid, in explaining the enormity of the challenge that SPAD has set for itself.
“We must ensure that the public transport network is sufficiently dense and ubiquitous so that the vast majority of possible origins and destinations are connected.
“We must ensure that connections and transfers are reliable, that the connectivity between the first and last mile is adequate and user-friendly.
“Right now, none of these exist in the quantities needed. For instance, our surveys show that in the Greater Kuala Lumpur region, the door-to-door travelling time by bus is thrice that of by private car despite the traffic jams.”
Experts concur that solving Malaysia’s public transport mess is much more than just building an MRT line (or even two or three more). Other than building more rail lines to cover more areas, and the accompanying park-and-ride facilities, integration is the key word here.
Surveys have shown that customers perceive public transport as attractive if there are harmonised timetables and connections, a single ticket for all means of transportation, as well integrated fares across several public transport operators.
The main tools of an integrated public transport system are network (or physical) integration and ticketing integration – but as they say, the devil is in the details.
Physical integration is not going to be an easy task for Malaysia as many existing assets have alread been built seemingly without integration in mind. Thankfully, though, the developer of the new Klang Valley MRT, Mass Rapid Transit Corporation Sdn Bhd (MRT Corp), is doing its utmost to integrate the six upcoming MRT stations with lines at Sungai Buloh (Komuter), KL Sentral (KTM Intercity, Komuter, Express Rail Link, Kelana Jaya LRT), Pasar Seni (Kelana Jaya LRT), Bukit Bintang Sentral (the monorail), Maluri (Ampang LRT), and Kajang (Komuter and KTM Intercity).
SPAD and MRT Corp are doing what they can to ensure that commuters can change between the MRT and other lines without being exposed to the sun, rain and road traffic. No more crossing the road like during the bad old days of the Masjid Jamek “interchange”.
Ideally, of course, you should be able to simply cross from one platform to another to change between lines; however, this will not be possible between the MRT and LRT lines due to extreme engineering challenges so connection will be made at the concourse.
While the engineers are working hard to solve the physical connectivity challenges, what is happening in terms of ticketing integration is not so clear at the moment. Much of it hinges on whether all the public transport operators would be willing to accept a single transit card and cashless ticketing as well as give a slight discount to those using the transit card versus those who buy single-journey tickets using cash.
The use of transit cards is already well established in most countries, including Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Britian. If London has its Oyster card for its Underground, Hong Kong its Octopus for its MTR (which is now being exported to the Dubai metro system), and Singapore its ez-link for all its trains and buses, what card will Malaysia get?
The two transit cards currently in use here are the Touch’n’Go and RapidKL cards.
Touch’n’Go can be used at all service providers: the LRT, monorail, KTM Intercity, KTM Komuter, Express Rail Link and RapidKL buses. The RapidKL card, which was introduced in November 2011 by operator Prasarana, can be used on the LRT and monorail but – rather strangely! – not on RapidKL buses. (Prasarana has said it will fix this problem, though there is no time frame.)
Transit cards offer many lucrative possibilities, so there is, reportedly, a lot of backroom wrangling going on as various stakeholders try to secure an advantage. It is SPAD that has been tasked with juggling demands from the various stakeholders when it comes to integration, both physical as well as for ticketing. SPAD CEO, Mohd Nur Kamal, does not beat around the bush when asked about this difficult job.
“Every where I go, there are roadblocks (to progress)!” he quips when asked how he is progressing.
Some things are clear, though, like the Transit Acquirer System that will be operated by SPAD.
The acquirer system will be the all-important nerve centre for all tariff integration, a clearinghouse that apportions what each carrier will get when a commuter taps out of the system after changing lines.
SPAD will also be the final arbiter when it comes to the new fare table for all operators and is currently holding talks on the final fare structure that will come into effect when the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line of the MRT opens in July 2017.
Integrating the ticketing system is further complicated by the fact that all the different operators have their own operating systems for ticketing and gate control, which might not necessarily be able to interface with each other seamlessly.
Unravelling this complicated puzzle is certainly keeping SPAD busy.
The commission wants to go with Touch’n’Go as the transit card for a integrated system but getting all parties to accept it is proving to be anything but a walk in the park.
“Yes, we are pushing for that. It will happen, and we are removing the bricks one by one,” says Mohd Nur, alluding to his quip about roadblocks.
“We are working towards a single (cashless) ticket that can be used on both trains and buses. We don’t want the cash lane to be the longest like seen at all toll plazas,” adds Azmi Abd Aziz, chief of development at SPAD.
Elaborating further on the acquirer system, Mohd Nur reveals that SPAD is working with Touch’n’Go to sort out the best arrangement, especially on who will make the initial investment in getting the ball rolling.
“And then there is the question of who will be running it – all these matters are still in the discussion stage. The final arrangement may take more than a year to arrive,” he says, adding, “We are looking at all the things that are stopping Touch’n’Go from being usable everywhere, and this is the most tiring part of the job.”
RapidKL operator Prasarana, for instance, has said that it would like to see its RapidKL card continue to have a place in the scheme of things.
It is understood that SPAD has not ruled out setting up a special purpose vehicle in which all stakeholders have shares so that no one will be left out when one card is deployed.
A lot of money has already been spent by the different stakeholders on Malaysia’s many different transport systems, including the upcoming MRT, which will have “the wow factor”, according to MRT Corp CEO Datuk Wira Azhar Abdul Hamid – “It will not just be another train,” he said with great conviction at an interview, adding, “If it is not a great project, I won’t do it.” The former accountant says the Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT line will not exceed RM24bil, even after taking into account worst case scenarios.
The question is, if we are prepared to spend this much money, can we afford NOT to have a seamless ticketing system?
For regular public transport users like educationist Natasha Manan, 32, the apparent lack of harmony now is highly disturbing, if not distressing.
“Strangely and most ironically, a RapidKL card does not work on RapidKL buses! And I was forced to purchase one such card to use the new multi-level parking facility at the Gombak LRT station, which will not accept other forms of payment such as cash or debit cards. The RapidKL card can stay in your car just for that purpose, otherwise its best to rely on your TnG, but don’t expect a discount,” says Natasha ruefully.
If there is any comfort for those sceptical about Malaysia’s current urban rail construction spree, Syed Hamid offers this: “There is no plan that does not take into account interoperability, so there will be integration from the start, and also between the first and the last mile. I am confident that we are on the right track.”
With less than a year to go before the critical decisions on integration have to be made, many are hoping that this will be the case.