MRT Update: Can the MRT network address our long-term transport problem?

TRANSIT took note of this column in Star Property, commenting on whether the MRT line (and network) will resolve the long-term transport problems in the Klang Valley.

Our answer…well, you have to wait for it. In the meantime, enjoy the article!

Can the MRT address the long-term transport problem? (Star Property)
22 January 2011

Thean Lee Cheng

MUCH will be said – and written – about the mass rapid transit (MRT) in the next several months with construction expected to begin in July this year. Some will be for it, others will be against it.

Why not have more cars fitted to the two-car system? Image courtesy of Star Property.

TRANSIT: There are some 4-carriage trains. Perhaps a better question is why not make all the service 4-carriage?

At RM36.6bil, the public transport system will be one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects. But this figure is for the civil works only. The prices of the trains and land acquisition have yet to be factored in. So the figure will certainly swell.

TRANSIT: Did we call it correctly or not?

The building of this new MRT line – as opposed to the current monorail and light rail transit – must be seen from the perspective of what we know today as our public transport system.

When the monorail and LRT were built in the mid-1990s, Klang Valley had a population of about 3 million. Today, we have a population of 6.6 million. By 2020, it is estimated to be 8 million.

While we were building our monorail and LRT in the mid-1990s, Singapore was extending their MRT system with the first portion of the line ready for service in the late 1980s. Despite a population of just over 3 million in 1990, they opted for the MRT in the 1980s, and not the LRT, monorail or whatever. Today, Singapore’s MRT is serving a population of more than 5 million people and that network is constantly being extended.

TRANSIT: By that time Singapore had already spent a very successful decade revamping and modernizing their bus system, which had increased the number of passengers beyond the level that an LRT or monorail system could handle.

Over in the Klang Valley, we were building two systems, the monorail and the LRT line. At that time, questions arose why we needed two systems and fragmentise public transport further.

TRANSIT: Actually, 3 systems. Plus the separate KTM Komuter and ERL systems (which use different track gauge). KL is a rail technology fan’s dream.

Why not have just one system? This question was never answered. The two systems lack integration. To use the monorail, one has to get off and get out of the LRT station, and walk some distance to get on the monorail line, for example between Dang Wangi and Bukit Nenas station.

The people who designed, planned and built the LRT and monorail also did not factor in park-and-ride facilities. They just built a station where they can, put in a line and expect[ed] everyone to walk there in the sun and rain.

The result is that today, there are cars parked under the electric lines which electrify the LRT [TRANSIT: The reference is to the LRT guideways] and there is a charge to this. So, in addition to spending about RM5 on a return ticket, there is the RM5 parking charge.

If one has to fork out RM10 to use the LRT or the monorail and yet at the same time, having to bear with the inconvenience, they may as well spend a bit more to have the convenience of driving to the city. That explains our low ridership. For every one ticket we sell, Singapore sells nine, London 16 and Tokyo 48.

TRANSIT: No, our low ridership is based on the fact that our bus system has not been improved at all before we introduced the LRT lines & monorail lines.

All of us know there is a cost to infrastructure. Whether it is road network, bandwidth or public transportation system, it is a sunk cost. As with most public infrastructure projects, there is no profit to be made from it.

TRANSIT: Not in Malaysia, that’s for sure. There is a lot of ‘profit’ to be made from infrastructure projects – and we aren’t talking about the contractors who sub-contract the contract and pocket the difference!

So the thing for the Government to do is to consider it as an investment for future years, for future generations. London’s underground is about 150 years old. It was the first underground railway system in the world. Today, it serves the Greater London population of more than 7 million, which is about equivalent to Klang Valley’s population. Greater London did not have a population of nearly 8 million some 150 years ago, yet they opted to build the underground. Closer home, Singapore did not have a population of 5 million 25 years ago.

TRANSIT: But compare the density of London and Singapore to the Klang Valley and you realize that they are far more dense than we are – hence, they had the critical mass of passengers needed to support an MRT.

And to be fair, many of the London Underground lines we know today were actually built (or extended) to serve as ‘commuter’ railways to service new suburban areas like West Brompton and Fulham.

When – and if – we build this MRT, it will not be for the next 30 or 40 years. It is for posterity. In that sense, it need not be wasteful.

But there is a need to be focused here. Do we want to sell more made in Malaysia cars to Malaysians or do we want to improve public transport? It is not possible to have both.

TRANSIT: Actually, we can have both. But we have to be realistic about how the cars will be used by the households.

One may ask, why not have more cars fitted to the present two-car LRT system? The LRT started with a two-car system. It can be fitted to a maximum of four cars. The LRT platform is designed to fit only four. The LRT has a carrying capacity of about 30,000 per hour per direction for a two-car system. So there is a cap to capacity. The MRT has 50% more carrying capacity and the car is 50% wider.

What is wasteful is spending money on piecemeal solutions – the LRT and monorail, for example – to solve a eternal question that hovers around population growth and the need for public transport.

TRANSIT: Good point, but how does it really relate to the column? Clearly the writer missed the point of discussion – our constant urban sprawl, conflicting density planning and lack of greenspace (Singapore and London are far more dense than KL but have more greenspace per person), as well as our transport planning.]

What is wasteful is having two MRT stations just 400m apart from each other.

[TRANSIT: Not necessarily. Each station might be serving a large catchment of people in the immediate area that could not be accommodated in a single station.]

What is wasteful is building the MRT, while ignoring and not improving the bus, taxi and Komuter system.

[TRANSIT: Full agreement there!]

TRANSIT Says:

We found this article a few days ago and have been working on this posting since then.

Initially, we thought the author was not so familiar with public transport and did not really discuss the issues in depth. And we still believe that there has to be more discussion of the issue of transport planning and development planning together – which was not present in the article.

And we would like to have a stronger discussion of the long-term planning for transport to go with our development planning. Unfortunately, the pace of the discussion is slow and many in authority are simply hoping that if we continue to build more densely, the problems will solve themselves.

The fact is that even with an MRT network in place, we can only expect that 40% of trips will be made by public transport, and perhaps 50% in the future (2025 or thereabouts) – barring any significant changes to the transport world.

That is why TRANSIT is concerned that the pace of transport planning is not keeping up with development. The focus on MRT-building will discourage those in authority and the public from paying attention to the most basic and middling transport issues – things like pedestrian walkways, bicycle lanes, active and accessible transport, and reliable, rapid transit.

Without a focus on all of the plans and issues together, everything that goes forward will still be ad hoc solutions, with a lot of hope for the better.a

An improvement, yes, but not the scale and scope of the improvement that we need.

As always, TRANSIT needs your ideas, thoughts and feedback. And we must share these ideas with those in authority so that we get the sustainable, livable communities that we need.

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “MRT Update: Can the MRT network address our long-term transport problem?”

  1. Different cities, countries and areas of different continents with very different demographic/geographical situations/scenarios, all of them are building MRT to solve their public transport problems. I believe it’s a long term solutions to solve road/public transport problems, or else these areas/cities won’t be stupid enough to build MRT.

    1. In fact, many cities are building (or finishing) their rail networks using light rail (“LRT” in North America, “tram” in most of the rest of the world, and “rapid-tram” according to TRANSIT).

      They choose this mode because the costs of construction are lower, the implementation is faster, and because these lines are not predicted to need the capacity of an MRT anytime soon. Also, because it is better to build something now than continue to wait.

      Reliable bus lanes and higher frequency buses (down to 5 minutes) would let us expand the capacity of the current bus system by 5x on various corridors – and 15x if we can introduce doubled lanes.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  2. OK, I will make it clear and specific. Wide majority of all the major cities in the world regardless of any continent, country, area, geographical/demographic conditions are building MRT of any kind to solve their public transport problems.

    1. Jeffrey

      It would be better if you can provide some references to qualify your statement on the ‘wide majority’.

      Not that we agree or disagree with you – just that it is better to have references.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  3. MRT is good for moving lots of people between suburban and urban areas in big metropolitan cities. we still need good supporting systems of bus, rail and LRT to move people within urban areas and within suburban areas.

    should have built MRT instead of LRT in the first place. then build lrt within satellite towns and high density suburban areas. but that’s already in the past.

  4. Moaz,

    How did the 40% public transport mode share come about, because it seems awfully optimistic. TfL London only reported a max 40% mode share within the inner city, and the figure dropped to 23% in outer London (LTDS, Mar 2007). In Sydney, the use of public transport to work alone only garnered a max 39% (Aust. Bureau of Stats, 2006).

    Even Singapore with its road pricing, car ownership restrictions and parking charges only chalked up 59% (Channel News Asia, 26/10/2009), and TRANSIT is implying that Klang Valley can nearly match what Singapore has achieved using a lesser effort?

    1. Ethan

      More and more we are seeing that the MRT project is going to be ‘overlaid’ onto the Klang Valley but it will be separate from the Klang Valley. It is very likely that the MRT will be supported by its own purpose-built projects – meaning that the MRT will absorb new trips and future congestion but do very little for current congestion.

      That is why we assume that the modal share might be able to reach the 40% proposed by the previous government – if judiciously helped by increases in the cost of private transport and the increased population of the Klang Valley.

      Please note that the Malaysian interpretation of public transport also includes intercity buses and taxis – allowing them to fudge the numbers a little bit.

      Even with the MRT and improvements to KTM, I doubt that urban transit trips will account for more than the 30% they did in the past – before the government tried to revamp the system (and before the National Car).

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  5. Hi Ethan

    Current modal share announced by PEMANDU reflecting am peak hour is 17%. The target for 2012 is 25%. Idris Jala is confident MRT will bring ridership to 50% for 2020.

    My take is 50% is achievable with present LRT and Komuter lines improved to international standards (50K ppdph x 2 lines x 2 directions, + 30K ppdh x 3 lines x 2 directions = total of max crush capacity of 760K ppl moved between 7-9am/5-7pm) with the estimated 1.5 million commuters in private motor vehicles (1.2 million is the estimate for 1997 SMURTKL data) crossing MRR2 – but with these conditions:

    1) Pedestrian permeability and land use planning (sustainable growth of urban development with high people activity around stations) – this is called Transit Oriented Development. So far TODs is almost nonexistent in existing stations. Look at Taman Bahagia LRT station for example – cars parking on pedestrian paths, access road next to station turns to ‘car parks’ almost any hour of the day due to traffic spill from LDP (human behavior – finding short cuts), nearest retails are car-oriented businesses (shops selling furniture and paints and workshops), no pick up and drop off point, etc etc etc

    2) Better bus network designs – feeders should not only act as feeders. These buses should feed communities to suburban centers, not only to mass transit nodes. The route planning must take into consideration of overall door-to-door travel time to be on par with private vehicle – long, tedious and zig-zagging feeder journey does not make sense.

    Indeed, high transit modal share figure is not the holy grail. Many factors and indicators should be taken in. In Singapore and Zurich, the average time a person takes to get to work is half than that of Dallas and Melbourne. Okay, Dallas and Melbourne may not be an apple to orange comparison due to their low density nature. But Singapore even beats Tokyo and New York. Although more % of people in Tokyo and New York take the subway.

    MRT works naturally in very high density (i.e. 7,000/hectare in Hong Kong and many Japanese cities) and pays off with proper retail + property approach, but it also works in Singapore (same density as KL) – simply because very high density housing developments are all planned to be concentrated adjacent or around MRT stops. Before Singapore had MRT, it had excellent bus network design, before that, it had traffic restraint measures. In KL, rail lines are planned to connect several pockets of already built medium density urban forms together which are way off the tangent for natural, straight travel paths.

    So we have PUTRA line built next to power cables, STAR built next to longkangs, and Komuter made to use the preexisting freight lines that cut across factories and very low density areas. These are not natural catchment for mass rapid transit. Natural catchment lies on existing car-oriented infrastructures – highways and roadways. If we fail to consider these natural alignments, people will remain to use cars.

    Zul for TRANSIT

  6. Except for most parts of Africa, I can say almost all the countries in all continents may it be South and North America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, even a hermit country like North Korea also has a mass rapid transit system in Pyongyang (no doubt it was built during the Soviet Union era). Even Vietnam now is planning for a lrt system in Hanoi and Jakarta wise, they have a lot of corruptions issues to handle before they can have the money to build a mrt system in Jakarta.

  7. Yeah. Including school buses and bas kilangs.

    Other cities with good public transport (with the exception of those in developed countries) usually have lower youth demographics, and not many blue collar workers.

    So not quite durian to durian comparison leh.

  8. if rapidKL can cope with demand for more frequent bus trips during peak periods, maybe the authority should allow private buses to run the feeder bus routes too. i have heard complaints that there are no feeder bus service going to desa petaling, when it is so near to bandar tasik selatan interchange and salak selatan station. currently, there is only one bus service plying that place – U48

    1. In most cases you are only going to see private companies look into service in areas that are profitable. For example, the Bas Mini service from the Subang Jaya KTM station to Sunway & USJ (#99) has expanded to 4 services:

      #99 – Subang Jaya KTM Komuter – Sunway – USJ14
      #66 – Subang Jaya KTM Komuter – Sunway
      #68 – Sunway – Puchong
      #77 – Subang Jaya Komuter – Sunway – Kg. Lindungan (PJS5) – ironically the bus does not go to Seri Setia Komuter station.

      Even RapidKL was not able to compete with the minibus service, so they “integrated” their Subang-Sunway routes into the U63 and U67 and shifted the T523 to connect Carrefour Subang Jaya to Mydin USJ, USJ1 & USJ7.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s