Is the delay to the LRT extension because of politics or bad planning?

TRANSIT took note of this recent commentary in the Business Times which appears to put the blame for the delay to the LRT project on the Selangor State Government and Subang Jaya Local Council (MPSJ).

We at TRANSIT believe otherwise – especially we have seen what all sides have to say, weighed their comments and efforts, and we have found Prasarana to be wanting.

But let us take a look at what the columnist has said first ….

You can’t please everybody (Business Times)
3 October 2010.

That said, the question remains whether the extension to the Kelana Jaya and Ampang LRT lines will be completed by the end of 2012.

SYARIKAT Prasarana Negara Bhd disclosed in September last year that it expected to start construction on the extension of its two light rail transit (LRT) lines in the Klang Valley early this year.

With just three months left in 2010, it hasn’t done it yet.

The first instinct is to blame the state-owned public transport operator for the delay of the project. After all, for a long time, we have been calling for the government to make public transport more accessible to everyone.

But according to a project official, who asked not to be named, this inaccurately describes reality.

“I think Prasarana has been taking a lot of the blame for the delays unjustifiably,” he said.

“What people do not understand is that since the public display of the proposed project in September last year, most time was spent in negotiations between the company and city councillors, State Assemblymen, members of non-governmental organisations and resident associations.”

[TRANSIT: And this is wrong? Or maybe it is Prasarana that was wrong, assuming that the project would be accepted easily and without question or investigation by the local government (let alone the public)?]

Residents from Putra Heights Section 2/3, Subang Alam and the Saujana Residency condominiums at SS16, for example, are against the LRT line extension, saying that the proposed LRT stations will be too close for comfort and will lead to unbearable noise levels.

They also claimed that they had bought their houses without prior knowledge on the LRT line extension.

[TRANSIT: Let the buyer beware – but also, let the government authorities plan properly! The LRT extensions have been “announced” in various forms since 2004 but the plan was only made clear in 2009!]

Some homeowners fear that a house or condominium that’s so close to a rail line that they hear and feel train noise and vibration may be difficult to sell or will be worth less than a similar property that is within walking distance.

Prasarana, on its part, has assured the residents that the proposed LRT alignment will be 7m from their homes and the distance would comply with the Department of Railways’ guideline which stipulates that the track must be at least 6m away. It would also build a 100m noise-muffling tunnel around the elevated train tracks near the Saujana Residency condominiums.

[TRANSIT:In one meeting, Prasarana claimed that there was no specific guideline stating a minimum distance between a rail line and a private home.

Now that Prasarana has acceded to the 6m minimum, it should be clear that some parts of the line will be less than 6 m away from people’s homes. TRANSIT has heard from one resident of the Saujana Residency who will have the LRT right outside her apartment, possibly 4m away.

Putting it in a tunnel will not make her life any better.]

A source familiar with the situation said the project delay is compounded by politics, where many politicians in opposition-ruled Selangor state are afraid of offending members of resident associations and parent teacher associations [TRANSIT: Parent Teacher Associations????] and are constantly delaying the project by questioning the rationale of building the extension, in the hope to garner their votes at the next general election.

[TRANSIT: That’s not exactly loaded writing, is it? One has to wonder who this source really is and how accurate their claims are!]

“The project delay has become more of a political issue,” the source said.

“Even among the Pakatan Rakyat politicians, there are two schools of thought: one that put aside their own self-interest to realise that the LRT extension will offer benefits to thousands of Klang Valley residents and another that believes that if they were to allow the project to proceed, it would only boost Barisan Nasional’s reputation, after all the LRT extension is a federal government project,” he added.

[TRANSIT: We are aware of another school of thought – one that does not wish to allow Prasarana to railroad (pardon the pun) an LRT extension through at the expense of people’s right to enjoy their property.]

Still, because land is a state matter, much of the project’s progress is dependent on when can Prasarana obtain a development order (DO) from the relevant local authority before it can start work on the project. Until then, it is expected to delay awarding the contract to the contractors.

As it stands at present, 90 per cent of this project falls under the Selangor state jurisdiction and the remaining 10 per cent is in the Federal Territory.

“Prasarana has written to the Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim to seek clearance for the project, but has yet to receive a reply,” a company source said.

[TRANSIT: According to sources that we have seen, the Selangor MB and EXCO have already approved the LRT line extensions and allowed the redesign of the gazetted local plans to accommodate the LRT extension as proposed by Prasarana.

But at the same time, they have directed Prasarana and the responsible local councils (MBSA and MPSJ) to work out the contentious issues.

So it sounds to us like Prasarana’s “source” is just whining and trying to shift responsibility away from himself or herself.]

“Nevertheless, the company hopes to award some contracts by the end of this year and start constructing an LRT line on sections which it has received approvals from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall. For example, between the current Kelana Jaya LRT station and the KTM Komuter station in Subang Jaya,” the source added.

That said, the question remains whether the extension to the Kelana Jaya and Ampang LRT lines will be completed by the end of 2012.

Perhaps it is now time for the Selangor state government to draw the line – to put politics aside and put the people first. Because if you try to please everyone, nothing gets done.

[TRANSIT: If the Selangor state government was really acting in their own interest or for political reasons, they would be demanding an extension to Shah Alam as the previous state government did. Former MB Khir Toyo went on record saying as much in 2007 in the lead up to the expected election.]

We would do well to examine the experience of Singapore, whose introduction of the LRT system was not without its criticisms.

When it was proposed in the late 1990s to complement the existing mass rapid transit system, complaints abound that the new LRT system was more expensive compared with buses, less comprehensive in coverage and less reliable. However, its government proceeded with the construction anyway. Today, the republic has one of the world’s best public transport systems.

[TRANSIT: Singapore already had an excellent public transport system and the MRT network and buses are the mainstay of that system. LRT is still very much an afterthought in Singapore public transport, and is only present in modern, transit-oriented HDB development projects.

Singapore also managed to find efficiency by building a seamless network and even cut costs by using the same vehicles for the LRT and the inter-terminal trains at Changi Airport – whereas KL has 5 rail lines using 4 different railway technologies!]

TRANSIT Says:

The commentary in one of Malaysia’s (supposedly) top business newspapers reflects the state of investigative journalism among the mainstream media in Malaysia. It is clear from the article that according to “a source” (from Prasarana), the delay to a Prasarana-run and Prasarana-managed project is not because of them, but because of outside sources – namely politics at the Selangor State Government.

The columnist then proceeds to write an entire column based on a questionable statement from a “source” who even goes so far as so comment on “two schools of thought” in the Selangor government! She does not even bother to ask the residents, local government officials, etc. about their side of the story!

One has to wonder how someone from Prasarana could have such detailed knowledge of how the members of the Selangor government are thinking, but no one had the interest to apply to the MPSJ back in 2006 or 2007 to rezone a portion of the lots to allow the LRT to go through!

In other words, why didn’t Prasarana do their job properly back in 2006 or 2007? After all, it was pretty clear by then that the Malaysian government wanted to extend the Kelana Jaya LRT to Subang Jaya and USJ. It had only been mentioned in announcements and budgets since 2004!

TRANSIT has participated in these discussions and done our best to provide information to the parties involved – and we have surmised that the Selangor state government is clearly in favour of the LRT extensions and they have received EXCO approval – so much so that the public transport routes proposed in the Draft MPSJ Local Plan have been changed to reflect Prasarana’s proposal in the legally gazetted “official” MPSJ Local Plan.

The EXCO has only directed Prasarana and MBSA and MPSJ (the local governments whose land the LRT projects would pass through) to work together and find a solution to the objections raised by residents.

TRANSIT believes that someone in Prasarana failed to take action and protect the disputed land in SS16 Subang Jaya back in 2007/2008 and is now trying to blame the Selangor government and the public for their own mistake.

And this reflects a thoroughly arrogant attitude that some at Prasarana have displayed on more than one occasion – a contempt for the public and the process by which development projects should proceed.

TRANSIT even notes that work on the LRT project has apparently started near Subang Parade but it is not clear whether Prasarana or their contractor has even filed with the MPSJ for permission to start work on the project – let alone received a development order allowing the LRT to go through.

We can only hope that new Managing Director Shahril Mokhtar will have the wisdom and confidence to bring about change at the very top levels of Prasarana – making the company more accountable and transparent and more responsible in its handling of public transport infrastructure projects.

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3 thoughts on “Is the delay to the LRT extension because of politics or bad planning?”

  1. great pieace! this issue has been prolong for too long and im sure many will see it as an issue that is even worst when PR took over Selangor

    I also remembered circa 2007 then Khir Toyo mentioned about Lrt being extended to Shah Alam and I was like, wow is this guy for real? Announcing it is easy but in reality how possible is that going to happen?

    Prasana has to do better in clearing up this mess or I guess they are not in a good position to be the guardian of public transport in Klang Valley

  2. I was wondering if Transit has had any updates on this project. Besides the 3 groups mentioned supposedly “very much against” the LRT extension to Putra Heights, there are un-said thousands of residents who will benefit from this project – in Puchong, Subang Jaya, USJ, Putra Heights etc… and also residents from other locations doing business or shopping or visiting friends in the mentioned locations.

    1. Hi @PTfirst

      Thanks for the feedback. We have been informed that the projects should start in early 2011, perhaps at the end of January or shifted slightly to allow for the formal reopening of Puduraya (probably February 1, Federal Territories Day).

      We realize that the LRT will benefit many people but we still do not agree with attempts to push the LRT line through without pre-planning and making sure that corridors are protected. Frankly, that is the responsibility of Prasarana and MPSJ and they failed in that aspect.

      We are most disappointed with “internal sources” from Prasarana blaming the problems on politics and inaction in the Selangor government. Really, the inaction was on the part of Prasarana, with carelessness of MPSJ added in.

      Former Prasarana MD Idrose Mohamed said in September 2009 that the LRT project could start in 7 months – but Prasarana did not even appoint main contractors until 1 year later. Even without the objections, that is still a significant delay.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

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