THE Centre For Malaysian Political And Economic Transcendence (Competent) is deeply interested in the government’s recent reviews of our public transport projects.
As beneficiaries of these projects, the rakyat deserve to be transparently informed about how any decision relevant to their planning and execution were made in the first place. The new government should aim to go beyond merely reviewing expensive mega projects while undoing the mistakes of the previous administration and delve into the mechanisms and processes that went into making those mistakes.
It is an open secret among the planning circles that transport master plans are often conceived to advance the wishes of the proponents of the projects rather than meeting the true needs of the rakyat. Since transport and town planning is a complex and timely exercise, the rationale behind the decisions to undertake any project in this sector needs to be transparently explained to the rakyat, more so when the findings of feasibility studies are often moulded to fit political agendas, thereby missing out on cost-effective alternatives.
As a rule of thumb, all land transport projects with significant impact on urban sustainability must be viewed holistically. Unfortunately, these are often backed by piecemeal studies with disparate goals and different traffic models, approaches and assumptions.
Despite being fiscally unsustainable, rail is often treated as the only solution to public transport needs simply because the now dissolved Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) was not sufficiently empowered to influence the factors that affect the bus service, particularly roadway configurations (which make buses meander unnecessarily) and piecemeal developments that disregard direct pedestrian access and result in complex bus networks.
To make matters worse, Rapid Bus, which receives capital funding support from the Finance Ministry-owned Prasarana, is still bleeding financially in the face of dwindling ridership which resulted from the traffic and land use shortcomings that SPAD wasn’t able to holistically address due to its limited jurisdiction and stretched manpower in network planning and budget.
This should not be a surprise as resource allocations have always prioritised politically shining urban rail studies and projects.
Decentralising the public transport planning functions to local authorities is a minimalistic solution that cannot work if road administration remains under different jurisdictions, as can be seen in a short stretch of urban road being under the Malaysian Highway Authority (LLM), Public Works Department (both are agencies under the Works Ministry) and local authorities.
With their different goals, boundaries, bureaucracy, policies and guidelines, can these agencies be considered capable of working together to achieve a common goal?
Furthermore, local authorities cannot be made accountable for spatial and transport plans that do not gel with their adjacent jurisdictions.
The conurbation of Klang Valley currently consists of local councils from the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, but it would encompass Negri Sembilan when the areas between Nilai, Putrajaya and Kajang are fully developed.
Local plans are more likely to prioritise intra-municipal spatial and transport networks where geographies are defined politically rather than functionally.
As an example, Seri Kembangan is under the Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) Local Plan but its residents and workers are likely to have stronger commuting ties with nearby Serdang and Bukit Jalil.
Hence, federal coordination across local councils from different states is crucial for national urban conurbations.
Dissolving SPAD as a statutory body while retaining the centralisation of highway administration under the LLM is thus a regressive move as it perpetuates the nation’s past mistakes in prioritising sprawling urban highways over sustainable urban public transport.
Thus, Competent is calling upon the new government to consider consolidating all elements of transport and land use planning, at least for Malaysia’s major urban conurbations, under a truly functioning urban transport statutory authority in charge of both roads and public transport similar to Greater London’s Transport for London and Metro Vancouver’s TransLink. This authority should also be independent of the present bureaucratic structure that yielded the piecemeal transport administration mess in the first place.
WAN ANWAR WAN IBRAHIM
Founder and chief executive
Centre For Malaysian Political And Economic Transcendence (Competent)