This is what public consultation ought to be

Public Consultation for public transport in Malaysia is a lot different from public consultation in other parts of the world.

This is, as you might expect, a result of a “government knows best” mentality that directs the whole planning process.

In Malaysia, planning takes place in stages too – but decision making is sometimes ad hoc and unpredictable. A good example of this is the unexpected delay to the construction of a new station concourse & roof design of Bank Negara Komuter station – purportedly because then Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, while on a visit to Bank Negara, looked down at the construction project for the new station and made an offhand remark that the fancy new roof looked out of place next to the brutal concrete of Bank Negara.

No Real, Timely Information and No Real Meaningful Consultation

Never mind. The issue is that the public is not given real & timely information about the planning process and are not meaningfully consulted.

In other words, the public is not involved in the decision making.  By the time the public is given the chance to submit their own views and ideas, (for example, during the “3 Month Public Display Period” specified by the Ministry of Transport), many vital decisions have already been made – which means that changes so late in the day would result in huge delays & cost overruns.

You can see our comments on the public display period here (scroll down to the bottom).

This is why TRANSIT believes that the public need to be involved in planning right from the beginning – and that is why the planning process needs to be broken down and made transparent and open and far more effective.

Public Consultation is Necessary

Some people may dismiss the idea of public consultation, suggesting that it will just lead to increased delays as people argue or try to push their own point of view ahead of the others.

But the truth is that, whether it is hidden or open, projects are still subject to delays because of disagreements among the decision-makers who are trying to push their own point of view.

Consider that it was back in 2004 (when the government was in the process of discussing the 9th Malaysia Plan) that then Deputy Prime Minister Najib announced the extensions of the LRT lines to Subang Jaya.

Consider the number of times the proposals have been changed, without reasons given. Major projects are delayed and delayed for a variety of reasons, and most of them are not really known to the public.

But at least with public consultation, there is a real awareness of the issues and push towards getting things done – because the rakyat know what they want.

On “NIMBY” & “Anti-Development” People

We also must not make the mistake of dismissing the public as bunch of whining, arguing “Not-In-My-Back-Yard” (NIMBY) people who are only interested in their own concerns.

Some people really want what is best for their community and not just for themselves. And some people just want the government and the planners to do things properly – because it is all of our best interest.

The Problem of Having Faith

Sometimes we are told that we should just have faith in the idea that the government or the engineers or the planners know what is best for us.

As a good example, look at the Selangor Structural Plan and the Infrastructure component of the Draft Local Plan – you will see that these documents produced for the same government, show vastly different plans for the LRT & Highway & KTM.

A similar example can be found in KL. A look at the KL Structural Plan and KLCity2020 Draft Local Plan show completely different plans for infrastructure like LRT, Highway & KTM.

So how should it work?

To give you an example of how the planning process for a new rapid transit (say, LRT) line should work, we give you a simple summary below.

Basic Service

  1. Introduce a lower level of public transport (e.g. a bus route)
  2. Identify a corridor that has potential for development
  3. Get public feedback on what they need for a bus service (lcoation of stops & terminals, scheduling, frequency of services, etc.)

Planning for Future Service

  1. Determine which route is developing the fastest by conducting economic studies and local area development studies
  2. Determine the threshold number – the number of passengers who will use the service during peak hours in 20 years.
  3. Consult with the public to decide what service is needed to meet the needs of these passengers. For 6,000-14,000 passengers per hour, the best solution is a Bus Rapid Transit system; For 12,000-28000 passengers the best solution is a rapid-tram system; For 30,000-70,000 passengers, the best solution is an intermediate capacity system; For 40,000-120,000 the best solution is an MRT system.

Route Planning

  1. Determine the alignment of the route that you wish to operate
  2. Get public feedback on the proposed route alignments.
  3. Provide options to the public.

Ensuring Demand

  1. Improve on the existing public transport service (e.g. upgrade the bus route to “Bus Rapid Transit”) while the future line is under construction. This will encourage commuter demand to grow.
  2. For example, RapidKL can offer a “LRT Extension Service” from Seri Petaling LRT station to Putra Heights, using roads in OUG, Kinrara, Puchong & Putra Heights. This will increase demand for the public transport service and raise the number of potential passengers for the future LRT line.

Future Capacity

  1. The line should be built with anticipation of 3 stages of growth, over 30-40 years – and there should be plans to increase capacity every 10 years.
  2. For example, one stage might be increasing the number of carriages, while another might be  increased frequency of train service.
  3. Currently, the Kelana Jaya line is at the end of the 1st stage of growth, and they are moving from 2-carriage trains to 4-carriage trains. However, we predict that demand will increase to the level that 8-carriage trains will be necessary on parts of the route by 2020
  4. Currently the Ampang line is at the beginning of the 2nd stage of growth, using 6-carriage trains on all trains (up from 4-carriage trains in the past). Prasarana is seeking to buy additional trains to increase service frequencies.

Best Practices

Readers & planners may be interested in some examples of the public consultation process found in London (UK), Vancouver & Toronto (Canada)

Why can’t we see a similar effort made here? Yes, Prasarana has made a good start but there is a long way to go.

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