Malacca government takes public transport to a new level

The recent announcement about a tram system in Malacca, which would supposedly be complete by Merdeka Day, 2011 (August 31, for those not familiar with Malaysia), inspired the following piece from Moaz Yusuf Ahmad

Malacca government takes public transport to a new level

I believe that Malacca Chief Minister Mohd. Ali Rustam, or someone in his government, is definitely a fan of public transport.  How else can one explain the flurry of announcements, comments, and projects, all related to public transport, that have come out of Seri Negeri (the CM’s office) over the past 5 years.

At last count, Mohd. Ali Rustam has talked about introducing LRT, Monorail, a KTM rail link to Tampin, Monorail (again), a High Speed Rail Link from KL to Singapore (via Malacca), Aerorail, and now the proposed tram system. And on top of that, he has also talked about reorganizing the bus system through contracting out public transport services to private companies.

So with all this enthusiasm from the government, why is public transport in Malacca the same as it was 5 years ago? The only noticeable changes have been the arrival of the PMCT Panorama Malacca bus owned by the MBMB, and the opening of Malacca Sentral – hardly revolutionary projects.

I believe that the lack of significant improvements to public transport in Malacca and other states is because the state governments are waiting for Federal guidance and federal funding. Whenever I talk to people in government at the state level, I invariably hear that “transport is a federal responsibility according to the constitution” and “we don’t have the money”.

But the federal government only has the responsibility for regulating public transport. Any state government or local government can take the initiative and apply for permits and provide public transport themselves (like Putrajaya and Malacca town do) or contract the service out to a private company (like Cyberjaya does). Or if they prefer to avoid the need for permits, they can simply offer free shuttle buses (like Petaling Jaya’s community shuttle bus).

We can only hope that the new SPAD (the Public Land Transport Commission) will work to encourage local and state governments to take up a greater role in providing public transport. The first they can do is download the planning & management of public transport to local or state authorities. These authorities can then hire private bus operators to provide public transport services, or operate the services themselves.

As for Malacca, the succession of announcements from the Chief Minister have not done much to increase the confidence of public transport users.

The monorail project is largely disappointing. The ‘visualization’ of the monorail used a copy-pasted image of the Las Vegas Monorail – a concrete, double tracked, ‘real’ monorail. The actual monorail is a single, metal tracked ‘theme park’ monorail like the one that used to run in Bandar Sunway.

Then there is the Aerorail project, which was also ‘visualized’ using a copy-pasted image from the Aerobus website, superimposed over real images of Malacca. The sight of the Aerorail flying over the buildings of the heritage core zone (like the Stadhuys and the A’Famosa gate) drew howls of protest and laughter, prompting a new proposal which terminated the Aerorail at Jalan Tun Ali, Malacca town’s “institutional” zone.

Now the Chief Minister has introduced a proposal for 50km of a tram network, using a Natural Gas powered tram which is supposedly the first in the world. Interestingly enough, the ‘visualization’ of the tram also used a copy-pasted image of a tram with the Malacca state government crest badly superimposed on the front.

An image of the possible tram for Malacca with the state crest superimposed on the nose of the tram. Notice that there are wires above the tram which is supposed to be powered by Natural Gas.

In a way I am happy to see that the Chief Minister has realized that trams are the most efficient & flexible way to move public transport – they have the speed and capacity of an LRT but their cost is far lower. For example, the Malacca tram is projected to cost about RM7-10 million per km, compared to the RM250 million per km projected for the extensions of the LRT.

But sadly, there is no way that the government of Malacca can introduce a tram system to the city in time for Merdeka Day 2011.

For one thing, the government still has to decide whether a tram is legally a train (subject to the Railways Act and regulated by the Department of Railways) or a road vehicle (subject to the Road Transport Act and regulated by the Road Transport Department) or a combination of both (subject to both Acts and regulated by both agencies).

Then there is the other truth that people seem to ignore. MRails International and its tram-operating subsidiary have no experience planning, building, managing or operating any type of public transport system, anywhere in the world.

Can we trust our public transport future to a company with no experience in public transport?

Sincerely

Moaz Yusuf Ahmad

TRANSIT Says

We at TRANSIT have always wondered what drives politicians when it comes to expressing their support for public transport. Everyone that TRANSIT talks to has expressed the wish for more public transport and better-organized public transport – but when asked how they would implement it, they usually start avoiding the question and deferring the responsibility to someone else.

People in the local government and state government say that public transport is a federal responsibility. The federal government says that the state government can implement a public transport plan any time they like – but they also argue in favour of ‘competition’, which is not really good for public transport.

The other factor that we have to deal with here is that there is no overall plan for HOW to plan,fund, build, manage and operate a proper, effective public transport service. In other words, there is no centralization of the knowledge that we have developed over the past 30 years of trying to ‘improve’ public transport.

This means that despite the experience that the Malaysian Government + KTMB + Prasarana-Rapid + other bus operators have, we still do not know collectively what works and what doesn’t work – and we have to find a way to fix this soon.

TRANSIT hopes that SPAD will be the source of all knowledge & information about public transport in Malaysia – becoming the experts so that governments all around Malaysia will have the ability to do more with public transport, faster.

What are your thoughts about public transport, whether in Malacca or in general? Please reply below with your comments.

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