Commentary: Public transport measures fail to reflect reality

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Zul from TRANSIT wrote this exceptional letter in response to the recent announcements from Nazri Abdul Aziz.

Public transport measures fail to reflect reality

IT WAS reported that the proposal under the Ninth Malaysia Plan to have three transport hubs to cater for buses bound for southern, northern and eastern states has been cancelled due to pressure from express bus operators.

Lately, there have been acquiescing voices from government officials to consider the de-establishment of government-funded operators (RapidKL and RapidPenang) that offer low ceiling fares and the liberty to let the “true market price” of transport services played by the invisible hands of the private operators. These passive tones show that the government, as the trustee of public mobility, is openly relenting to calls that seek the full transformation of the public transport sector to be exclusively demand-driven.

This highlights the sad reality in Malaysia where the government expects the private sector to holistically lead the improvement of public transport with complete disregard of any supporting infrastructure (in the absence of exclusive transit lanes, signals, walkways, terminals, staging areas and depots).

The fact that the majority of the urban folk choose private transport over public transport is a grim reminder that public transport remains expensive no matter how low the fares, as the lost time and hassle in using public transport damage an average commuter’s productivity and quality of life.

To date, there is no single transit complex that effectively serves as a transit point between intra-urban and inter-urban travel in Kuala Lumpur. As a representative voice for public transport users in Klang Valley, the Association for the Improvement of Public Transport has suggested four transit gateway complexes to be set up near the entrances of four highway corridors (AKLEH, DUKE, Maju Expressway and Sprint) for inter-urban to intra-urban transfers, and two additional interstate transit gateways (apart from the Bandar Tasik Selatan integrated transport terminal) to be set up along the NSE (next to Sungai Buloh KTM) and the north section of Duke (connected to Gombak LRT terminal). These gateways are connected by expressways and rail tracks, and will effectively enhance use of interstate and inter-urban buses (which do not have to go through city traffic).

Yet, the public is sought to be engaged only when the decision affecting them has already been made.

The government cannot abscond from its responsibility in channelling its resources to build sufficient support systems that allow public transport operators to put their act together and effectively serve the public. Public transport support systems which encompass provisions of infrastructure, enforcement, route and fare rationalisation and feedback management must never be short-changed by overlapping jurisdictions of government agencies.

Instead of taking charge of public transport, government agencies have been quick to delegate the responsibility to the private sector. Public transport cannot be demand-driven. Without a well-coordinated government-funded support system, operators have no choice other than to cut corners to compete with the conveniences offered by private transport.

If we think public transport operators and users should privately bear all the costs related to mass transit infrastructures, systems and operations, then we should remind ourselves that our scarce public roads are disproportionately taken up by private vehicles which do not incur the full costs it generates for society: infrastructure, wear and tear, pollution, congestion, accidents and collective urban productivity loss. The government has to take the lead to secure the interest of the public to travel conveniently.

Although Kuala Lumpur can no longer support the widening of roads or new bypasses, it can afford to use various advanced mass rapid transit approaches to facilitate urban mobility. But then, the government has not been keen in exploring these approaches due to the fixed mindset that public transport thrives in the presence of competition without governmental interference, forgetting that private transport monopolises most of the government-funded infrastructure that public transport (namely buses) relies on.

Allocation of risks and responsibilities between the authorities and the operators can only be fairly determined by an independent commission, not by the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board nor the operators.

I sincerely plead with the government to be less reactive in introducing knee-jerk measures as if public transport is meant to be demand-driven, and be proactive in making public transport supply-driven through the (yet-to-be-commissioned) public transport commission.

Muhammad Zulkarnain Hamzah
Shah Alam

TRANSIT Says:

Nothing. Zul said it already for us.

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