Latest Press Release on KL’s Heavy Rail Proposal

TRANSIT together with Pertubuhan IKRAM Malaysia’s (Ikram) Masyarakat Madani Committee have issued a joint statement on the MRT Proposal.

Concerns over MRT in Greater KL — Syed Ibrahim Syeh Noh AlHabshi

October 10, 2010

OCT 10 — Pertubuhan IKRAM Malaysia’s (Ikram) Masyarakat Madani Committee together with the members of the Association for the Improvement of Mass Transit (Transit) wishes to highlight on the urgency to clarify common misperceptions on the proposed Mass Rail Transit project as spelled out in the recently announced NKEA for Greater Kuala Lumpur.

The project is the biggest infrastructure undertaking in the nation’s history, and we are very concerned about the viability of the project and fear it might even worsen the current commuting and the economic growth bottlenecks within the Greater Kuala Lumpur based on the following salient reasons:

Absence of sustainable public transport funding framework

The debt of nearly RM10 billion that both Prasarana and the government have inherited from the bailouts of failed LRT (Putra and Star) companies can only be fully settled without incurring any burden to taxpayers by the time the final tranche of Prasarana-issued bonds mature in 2023 if the current average LRT ticket fare of RM1.60 is revised to RM8.74.

The amount of debt if it is to be fully absorbed by the government can unfairly translate to either RM1,800 for every average Malaysian household, including those who live in the Sarawak longhouses, or RM2,000 for every single resident in the Klang Valley, even in areas with unreasonable walking distance from the present LRT stations.

If Greater Kuala Lumpur is to replicate the transit funding framework in Tokyo, Hong Kong and other world class cities like Vancouver where break-even in mass rapid transit infrastructure investment is achievable, an average transit tax rate of at least RM1 per square foot for each real estate that resides within the walking radius of the present 48 LRT stations need to be levied in a period of 20 years.

Can such density-altering framework be implemented in tandem with the MRT proposal which carries a conservative RM43 billion price tag when nothing has been done to rectify the distortion in the way the present LRT infrastructure benefits the few developers and owners of lands near the existing stations compared to the larger taxpayer and constituent base? Our Muslim leaders must remember that one of the core principles of governance emphasised by their Holy Book is that access to prosperity must not concentrate and circulate among the selected few.

Lack of consideration on utilising established infrastructure

It is a gross mistake to dismiss other modes of mass rapid transit as a tool in meeting Greater Kuala Lumpur’s mobility needs. A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system with articulated buses running on highway medians typically cost a tenth of what a grade-separated LRT system cost, and yet, like Latin America’s Transmilenio, can carry more passengers than the best MRT system available in North America.

On the other hand, Transit’s proposed Expressway Rapid Transit (ERT) can be applied on limited-access expressways that aren’t suitable for BRTs. With ERT, express bus operators are given flexibility to use their underutilised buses to serve commuting demands from ERT terminals along expressways that intersect arterials plied by local rapid bus services, to ERT gateways at strategic inner-city cordon points (like Dang Wangi LRT and Cheras LRT). The expressways can be assigned with demand-driven toll rates for rapid and frequent ERT services.

The current feeder services that serve the existing rail stations are hampered by delays due to the congestion along the arterial and collector roads, which was caused by the existing poor urban form and planning. This can be solved by reversible/intermittent bus lanes, priority signals, queue jumps, roadside parking enforcements and interconnected pedestrian paths (that allow residents to reach feeder halts along speedy suburban arterials instead of buses having to negotiate the intricacies of local roads).

Proper allocation of funds for the set up of these mass transit support systems must be considered a priority. Without it, grandeur plans such as encapsulated pedestrian pathways, deep underground subways and over-the-sky monorails will only reinforce exclusivity among the urbanites, and hampers interconnectivity which is a core element in urban multimodal transportation.

In world-class cities, it is the flexible use of different mobility tools, not the presence of state-of-the-art metro, that encourage people to use public transport. Pedestrians, bicycles, trams and cars learn to co-exist, with exclusive right-of-way classification and prioritization granted for public transport.

In the spirit of Eid where the virtues of offering greetings to each other are promoted, our Muslim bureaucrats ought to heed the Prophet’s “who-greets-who” advice in setting up a more friendlier and inclusive urban environment. The advice specifically prioritizes bystanders over horse riders (cars yield to pedestrian in local access roads), elders over youngsters (stepless, at-grade crossings over multilevel crossings for urban interchanges), and large groups over individuals (cars yield to trams/buses in busy arterials).

Ad-hoc public transport planning and review

The GTP Roadmap for urban public transport specifically spelt out modal share percentage, ridership figure and transit accessibility range for its KPI, but missed out on travel time reliability, which is the most important KPI that defines the performance measurement for transit authorities in world class cities. As a potent tool to solve urban productivity gridlock, public transport can never attract car users if its opportunity cost of travelling is higher.

Thorough studies to solve travel time reliability issues for every single residential pocket within the Greater Kuala Lumpur should be done before any major mass transit initiative can be considered, let alone publicised. Under the National Physical Plan (gazetted in 2005), studies need to be undertaken to identify required movement corridors, and these corridors need to be subsequently incorporated into Structure and Local Plans prior to emergence of an integrated transportation network.

When the findings of the last comprehensive Klang Valley traffic study in 1999 (which took more than two years to complete) fail to continuously manifest in the subsequent urban structure plans, how can we expect the three-month MRT study to accurately portray the viability of MRT to solve the shortcomings of Greater Kuala Lumpur’s mobility support systems and infrastructure?

How can anyone tell whether the unsolicited MRT proposal will fit in with the rest of the mass transit support systems in the absence of any integrated public transport master plan? The rail alignments proposed under different Structural Plans do not even touch each other on the respective plans’ jurisdictional borders, indicating the priority to focus on a single integrated public transport master plan over piecemeal proposals.

In the 10th Malaysia Plan, it is clearly stated that transportation networks should be designed to move people, with a focus on public transport as the primary spine, supported by a pedestrian-friendly street network. Integration of land use and transportation plans in shifting towards compact and efficient cities is touted to be an important component of Local Plans.

Such Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) approach works in world-class cities due to the active participation from all levels of stakeholders, where city councils empower community leaders to both propose and decide on matters that affect them locally. Assessment rates are levied according to urban density and transit access, and the resulting commercial growth around transit stops (bus, rail or tram) will lend a further significant boost in the overall vibrancy of the surrounding communities.

Although Klang Valley’s rail infrastructure has been around for more than a decade, low density, car-oriented land use still prevails around most of the stations. The government must come up with a workable strategy to solve this problem first, and convince all stakeholders on its firm commitment to similarly allocate significant funds and projects to make public transport accessible to all.

It is better to take an incremental approach in implementing TODs around existing transit stops and allocate few billion ringgit for a plenty of BRT spines (complete with feeder and pedestrian network) with potential MRT upgrade in the future, rather than splurge tens of billions of ringgit on one or two rail corridors and risk on defaults arising from failure to reap enough funds from the TOD-identified areas.

The Quran says that among the believers whose trust is only in God are those who conduct their affairs by counsel. Public transport should be public-sector driven, and federal, state and local authorities together with local grassroots need to engage with each other and agree on a common urban development and transit blueprint. TOD is a beautiful concept that needs to be deployed carefully and gradually with full acquiescence from all affected stakeholders, and cost-effective, high-capacity BRT and ERT systems should be given a thorough consideration.

The advantages of a rail-based network are numerous and we do not argue against them. Our concern is that the high cost of the rail network means that fewer areas can be served with public transport, and most of the cost can be disproportionately shouldered by the majority who will benefit the least from the proposed MRT alignments.

Notwithstanding our frustration in the way unsolicited proposals have to always come from companies with direct interest in the proposals, we hope that the government through SPAD will instil some good sense and prudence in paving the way ahead for a better public transport system that is accessible and friendly to all.

* Syed Ibrahim Syeh Noh AlHabshi is Chairman of Pertubuhan Ikram Malaysia’s Masyarakat Madani Committee.

One article appears in The Sun newspaper, criticizing on the MRT proposal from the transparency and the competency aspects.

Getting the best deal for mega projects
Koon Yew Yin


THE purpose of my writing this piece is to warn the public and government that the way the proposed mass rail transit project is being considered by the government is basically wrong and may well end up with taxpayers having to pay a higher toll rate than justifiable.

This warning is not only for the MRT project but for all 131 projects envisaged under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) which is supposed to transform Malaysia into a high-income nation. I see no change at all in the procurement procedure which has been used before in large concessions. The results of the evaluation and bidding procedure for mega projects such as the MRT, the power provided by independent power producers, toll roads, and the Selangor water supply have seen the consumers being forced to pay unreasonable rates because the bidding and tender process has been riddled with opportunities for rent-seeking, corruption and wastage. Besides, the government has not fully considered cheaper and more efficient alternatives.

I was shocked to read that Land Public Transport Commission (LPTC) chairman Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar has said that the technical study of the proposal submitted by Gamuda and MMC would be completed by the end of the month and that following it, the LPTC would submit its report to the government for approval.

I would like to ask how the commission knows that this proposal is the best in terms of technology and costing? It is impossible for LPTC to do an honest job if it has only one proposal to study and does not have other proposals to compare with.

As we know, the MRT project will cost several billion ringgit. Negotiating with only one consortium is likely to encourage corruption and waste, and is against all elementary principles of good economic governance. The price can be RM10 billion, RM11 billion or RM12 billion. Who is to decide whether a costing of RM10 billion is in the best public interest and will provide full value for Malaysians and not the project developers?

The sum provided by the only bidder is like taking a figure out of a hat. We are talking about billions of ringgit. The public must demand that the government stop this method of award. It is the height of economic foolishness to award a concession or monopoly on a first come first served basis. The best way in terms of award of tenders is for government to follow the guidelines set by the World Bank. These procurement guidelines are easily available online.

First, the government must engage a reputable engineering consulting firm which has experience with similar projects to put up a proposal and to open the project bidding to all contractors. All the contractors must be prequalified based on both their technical and financial ability. All contractors must submit tenders conforming to the original design so that the cheapest tender can be selected. If all the contractors are prequalified, the government tender board has only to look at the tendered price. Always award the contract to the contractor who submits the cheapest tender, assuming that all the other criteria are met. It is important not to allow anybody from the government to negotiate with any contractor to avoid corruption.

Finally, transparency and accountability require that all documents on the proposal and other 131 projects in the ETP be placed in the public sphere – not just limited information but detailed and full breakdowns in accordance with international best practices.

If we want to reach the status of a highly developed nation, we must immediately implement the standards of economic good governance, accountability and transparency that come with it.

THE AUTHOR is a retired engineer and philanthropist. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Another article from CPI Asia, with fairly the same gist and punch.

October 12, 2010

OCT 12 — I refer to the article “Transparency in MRT Planning” by Risen Jayaseelan which appeared in a major newspaper recently on October 5. The purpose of my writing this piece is to forewarn the public and the government that the way this proposed project is being considered by the government is basically wrong and may well end up with taxpayers having to pay a much higher toll rate than justifiable.

This warning is not only for the MRT project but for all 131 projects that are being envisaged under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) which is supposed to transform Malaysia into a high-income nation.

Basically I see no change at all in the current procurement procedure which has been used before in large concessions. The results of the evaluation and bidding procedure for mega projects such as the current MRT, the power provided by IPPs, toll roads, and the Selangor water supply have seen the consumers being forced to pay unreasonable rates because the bidding and tender process has been riddled with opportunities for rent-seeking, corruption and wastage.

Besides, cheaper and more efficient alternatives have not been fully considered by the government.

I was shocked to read that the chairman of Land Public Transport Commission, Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar, has said that the technical study of the proposal submitted by Gamuda and MMC would be completed by the end of the month, and that following it, LPTC would submit their report to the government for approval.

I would like to ask how in the first place can the LPTC know that this proposal is the best in terms of technology and costing? It is impossible for LPTC to do an honest job if they have only one proposal to study and they do not have at least several other proposals to compare with.

As we know, the cost of this MRT project will be several billion ringgit. Negotiating with only one consortium, Gamuda and MMC, is likely to encourage corruption and waste, and is against all elementary principles of good economic governance. The price can be 10, 11 or 12 billion ringgit. Who is there to decide whether a costing of RM10 billion is in the best public interest and will provide full value for Malaysians and not the project developers?

The sum provided by the only bidder is like taking a figure out of a hat. We are talking about billions of ringgit involved. Are there saints in the evaluation committee or project developers who do not like big money? The amount of money involved is so enormous that even saints will surely be tempted.

The public must demand that the government stops this method of award. It is the height of economic foolishness to award a concession or monopoly on a first-come, first-served basis. Mega project awards should not be given out on the basis of service that is dished out in restaurants. If we do that, we will end up with a lethal case of economic poisoning of the Malaysian consumer.

Best way to evaluate tenders

The best way in terms of award of tenders is for the government to follow the guidelines as established by the World Bank. Incidentally these procurement guidelines are easily available over the website and are even applied in some of the most corrupt countries of the world in an effort to reduce corruption. It does not cost us even one sen to adopt them.

Firstly, the government must engage a reputable engineering consulting firm which has experience with similar projects to put up a proposal and to open the project bidding to all contractors to tender.

All the contractors must be prequalified based on both their technical and financial ability. All contractors must submit tenders confirming to the original design so that the cheapest tender can be selected. If all the contractors are prequalified, the government tender board has only to look at the tendered price.

Always award the contract to the contractor who submits the cheapest tender assuming that all the other criteria are met. It is important not to allow anybody from the government to negotiate with any contractor to avoid corruption.

Finally, transparency and accountability requires that all documents on the proposal and the other 131 projects in the ETP be placed in the public sphere — not just limited information but detailed and full breakdowns in accordance with international best practices.

If we want to reach the status of a highly developed nation, we must immediately implement the standards of economic good governance, accountability and transparency that come with it. — CPIAsia.net

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3 thoughts on “Latest Press Release on KL’s Heavy Rail Proposal”

  1. Hi whatever they decide. I hope they make stations with at least 4 platforms so that they may offer proper limited stop service. Limited stop service allows shorter journey time and overall compliments the local trains (trains that stop at every stop.)

  2. Yeah that’s what we hope so. With MRT, it might not be viable due to the high cost to build one or two extra lines for express service. But with BRT, adjustments can be made at stations to serve normal and express lines via ‘overtaking lanes’. With ERT, there is no limit – point-to-point express bus service beats limited stop service any time.

    Zul for TRANSIT

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