Building confidence in public transport?

TRANSIT took note of a recent article in the Star newspaper that discusses the effect of investments that investment in public transport infrastructure will have on public transport use.

Building confidence in public transport (the Star)
28 November 2009
By SHARIDAN M.ALI

FOR most of Klang Valley residents, the choice between driving in traffic jams and commuting in sardine-packed light rail transit (LRT) or buses during peak hours makes little difference.

The Government has set what seems to be an ambitious target of increasing public transport usage to 25% by 2012 from the current 16%. To do that, there ought to be a concerted support from related Government agencies, private bus operators, taxi companies as well as the LRT and the largest public bus [and LRT & monorail] operator, Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd.

With emphasis on that and as one of the lead drivers to achieve the target, Prasarana hopes to instil confidence of using public transport by providing more comfortable, reliable and efficient services. [TRANSIT: They have a long, long way to go and sometimes it appears that they are going backwards!]

Currently, Prasarana has the biggest ridership; it transports a daily average of 400,000 people on its buses, 300,000 people on its two LRT services and 100,000 people on the monorail.

Datuk Idrose Mohamed says the company wants the public to associate RAPID services with efficiency, comfort and reliability. Image courtesy of The Star

Clearly, a lot more needs to be done to boost the country’s public transportation usage, which is still lagging behind other Asian countries like Singapore and South Korea where the usage is more than 50% and 70% respectively.

Prasarana, a Government-own company under the Ministry of Finance Inc, is acquiring new and longer trains as well as carrying out route extensions for the LRT service, ordering new buses and upgrading the present LRT stations.

The extensions of its two LRT services namely the Ampang Line and Kelana Jaya Line with an estimated cost of RM7bil is expected to commence construction in the first quarter of next year. The construction will take three years to complete; the delivery of 35 four-car trains valued at RM1bil will be staggered over two years starting early next year while the delivery of 400 new buses, also staggered, will start early next year. [TRANSIT: We wonder if the Auditor General will once again be talking about overpayment and overspending by Prasarana in regards to these projects & purchases.]

“Besides these, we are also improving our services via public input. For example, we are upgrading our bus services in terms of interval time and routes in all the six areas we cover in the Klang Valley starting with Cheras,” says Prasarana group managing director Datuk Idrose Mohamed,

“In terms of buses’ interval time, we try to improve the situation by looking at depot, drivers or road congestion problems.

“We also have to modify some routes that previously used two buses to reach the city centre to only one bus without increasing the fare,” he told StarBizweek during the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) Asia-Pacific Seminar last week.

Prasarana director of stakeholders management division V.Ravindran says different modes of transportation namely the LRT, monorail, express rail link, bus and KTM commuter, taxi, car, motorcycle, bicycle and pedestrian should integrate at conducive transit stations to promote the usage of public transportation. Prasarana is doing this for its Kelana Jaya and Ampang lines extension projects. [TRANSIT: They will do this in theory, but in practice?]

“Also, another important convenient feature that will be included in our LRT extensions is ride and park facilities. Our Kelana Jaya Line and Ampang Line extension will include 5,100 and 6,000 parking lots respectively,” he adds.

Among other comfort and convenience features are six covered walkways and pedestrian links to transit stations.

Minding that one of the main causes of traffic congestion stems from convergence of express buses in the city centre, the Government has also proposed integrated transport terminals (ITT) for express buses away from the city centre. [TRANSIT: But at the same time, RapidKL has increased the number of buses going into the city centre and cut back on most of the City Shuttle routes]

“Currently, there are three ITTs in the proposal that shall serve express buses going to and from the north, east and south of Peninsular Malaysia,” he says.

In terms ticketing system, while there is a common payment system across multi-modal public transport using Touch ‘n GO card, there is no integrated ticket system as yet. [TRANSIT: 6 years and counting and still no integrated ticketing system! We wonder why the Auditor General hasn’t mentioned this yet.]

“Prasarana has initiated integrated ticketing system for its LRTs, buses and monorail but while awaiting the completion, integrated monthly passes (RapidPass) are made available,” he says.

To strengthen the company’s brandname in public transportation, Idrose says Prasarana with its two LRTs, Klang Valley buses under Rangkaian Pengangkutan Integrasi Deras Sdn Bhd (RAPID KL) and bus operation in Penang under Rapid Penang Sdn Bhd (Rapid Penang) will re-brand their integrated services under one single brand, RAPID. “We want the public to associate RAPID services with efficiency, comfort and reliability,” he says. [TRANSIT: And we want the brand RAPID to represent the Local Public Transport Councils of KL and Penang.]

On the findings of the recent National Audit Report that the company has incurred losses from 2005 to 2007 with accumulated losses as at Dec 31, 2007 were RM839.81mil, Idrose says, Prasarana is service-oriented rather than demand-based or profit-oriented organisation.

“We serve non-profitable routes and do not charge expensive fare but we make sure that our income at least covers our operational cost,” he says. [TRANSIT: Just because you are “service-oriented company” that does not give you carte blanch to spend money.]

TRANSIT Says:

Well there you have it. The future of public transport in Malaysia is in the hands of a government owned company that will compete with private operators and probably push them out of the market. All in the name of stability.

The saddest thing is that the public and wakil rakyat hardly question the work that Prasarana is doing. And people complain about Prasarana’s office in Bangsar but they say nothing about the cost of the proposed LRT lines.

Does RM7 billion sound like a large amount of money? How about RM411 million per kilometer? How about when we compare the projected cost of RM411 million /km compared to the price of constructing the LRT which was 150 million / km back in 1997.

We at TRANSIT have to ask an honest question – can we afford to spend RM15 billion (or RM411 million per km) to extend LRT lines to low-density suburbs?

Or would it be better to spend some of that RM 15 billion on another form of technology, that would give us rapid transit at a fraction of the cost?

We at TRANSIT do not see the value in spending RM411 million per km just to extend the LRT to meet with each other. Nor do we see the value in extending the LRT lines into suburban areas which are very low density.

Why build a train system capable of moving 30,000 passengers per direction, per hour, to a suburban area where there are few public transport users?

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