MRT Update: Project to start before funding & alignment is complete?

TRANSIT noted this very strange set of comments from Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and Pemandu CEO Idris Jala, in which he states that the MRT is absolutely necessary for the Klang Valley, so much so that civil works will begin for the project on July 16, even though the funding and the alignment have not been completely sorted out yet.

Now, TRANSIT agrees that public transport is in a bad state, and we agree that we need more rail lines, and we agree that a line on this corridor is necessary for the Klang Valley Rail Network (and in fact this line shows up in all recent rail network proposals) – but our big questions are:

1. What’s the hurry?
2. What’s the hurry?
3. Aside from the MRT project, what is going to be done to improve public transport on a significant scale? Buying new buses & trains is just playing catchup for years of underfunding public transport, and those BET routes are making a difference but it is not significant.
4. Where are the real, specific benefit numbers that justify the initial cost of RM36 billion? It’s hard to support a project where the costs are murky and the benefits are imaginary & based on hope & promises.

Ok, before we comment too much, do read the article and Idris Jala’s comments below:

MRT works to start July 16, says Idris Jala
UPDATED @ 07:11:23 AM 27-01-2011
By Lee Wei Lian
January 26, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 26 — Physical works for the Kuala Lumpur Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) will start on July 16, although the government is still working on the alignment and financing for the RM36.6 billion project, Senator Datuk Seri Idris Jala said tonight.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said the MRT had a multiplier effect and would help generate income through rise in property prices and business in the Klang Valley.

[TRANSIT: Just a warning here – generating a rise in income will also mean a rise in cost of living in the Greater Klang Valley – whether that will be balanced by the decrease in transport expenses & costs from fewer drivers driving fewer kilometers, still remains to be proven.]

Idris said the government will not introduce a congestion charge until viable public transportation alternatives are available. – Pic by Jack Ooi

We absolutely need the MRT for the Klang Valley,” he said when answering a question at the Town Hall organised by The Malaysian Insider and BFM Radio at the Telekom Malaysia multipurpose hall here.

[TRANSIT: And what about the rest of the public transport system, Idris?]

He had earlier cited rising congestion in the Klang Valley as a reason for the MRT. Kuala Lumpur already has two city train lines and a monorail, all owned by the government’s Syarikat Prasarana Bhd.

Idris also said that the government is working toward a common ticketing system to tie together the disparate systems.

[TRANSIT: 8+ years that Prasarana has been in operations and they are still working on a common ticketing system. We have to wonder who or what is holding things back!]

The Pemandu chief said that the two key parameters for the alignment of the new MRT is the configuration which would have the highest ridership and favourability of public opinion.

“If the areas that the MRT runs through has tremendous objection, then we have to change,” he said.

[TRANSIT: And how will you have to even register these objections, with the 3 months public display not yet started, and financing not yet secured?]

The Land Transport Commission CEO had said earlier this month that tenders for the MRT would be in April with awards in May or June.

To a question from the floor about investor confidence Idris also said that he had met with investors in Singapore and Hong Kong and “the money is coming in”.

[TRANSIT: Prove it!]

Asked about what the government is doing to reduce traffic jams in the city, Idris said that they had introduced express bus routes along underutilised highways such as Kesas that resulted in a 192 per cent increase in ridership.

[TRANSIT: 192% increase in ridership on a few minor routes is not much to be proud of. If they introduced Express Bus routes on all corridors (as was planned in 2007), then that might make a bigger difference.]

He also said that the introduction of 22 four car LRT trains on the Kelana Jaya line last year had resulted in a 2.43 million increase in ridership.

[TRANSIT: But that purchase was not a Pemandu initiative and actually began under the previous PM! So Idris, please do not take credit for what you have not done.]

“By 2020, at least 50 per cent of the KL population must be on public transport,” he said.

[TRANSIT: We are going to hold you to that figure, though we think it is especially vague (and recycled from the year 2000). But we know the MRT is not going to be enough. So what else is Idris and SPAD and Prasarana going to do?]

Idris noted that with 20 million cars for a population of 28 million, Malaysia had a per capita car ownership that was higher than that of US and Germany.

He said, however, that the government would not put in place “draconian” measures such as charging cars to enter the city until viable public transport alternatives were in existence.

“The congestion charge in London is very unpopular,” he said.

[TRANSIT: Thank you Idris Jala. First you go on record saying that expanded bus lanes would be a challenge because drivers would complain. Now you say that the congestion charge is also not viable. Have you heard the phrase ‘painting yourself into a corner’ before?]


TRANSIT Says:

Ok, so as we said before – we can generally agree that public transport needs to be improved, that the buses and KTM Komuter and LRT need to be improved and the rail network needs to be expanded.

However, we at TRANSIT have always believed in hard numbers. Not soft numbers, general numbers, hopeful numbers or wishy-washy numbers. And unfortunately, it seems like that is all that we are getting from Idris Jala.

Do we ‘absolutely’ need the MRT? Perhaps – but why do we absolutely need it now, and not 5 years ago? And more importantly, why do we need the MRT so much that we are going to put all our resources into planning and building it, without so much more than a stray thought towards other modes of public transport – let alone the needs of other cities – without real numbers backing the proposal.

There is a huge gap between the current, mediocre bus numbers and the capacity of an MRT. Even if we assumed that 20% of drivers would switch to MRT along this corridor, we do not come close to the hoped-for results of 50% use of public transport (even if we include taxis and intercity buses into the mix to fudge the numbers).

In other words, if we cannot make the buses work, we cannot make the Komuter work, and we cannot make the LRT work, how are we going to make the MRT network work – and how are we going to get full value for our RM36+ billion (to start)?

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8 thoughts on “MRT Update: Project to start before funding & alignment is complete?”

  1. Well, I think the government is going to repeat the same mistakes or not even worse for the MRT constructions. LRT style chaos II in the making.

  2. even if the MRT is built, and no satisfatcory connecting bus services are put in place (just like the current LRT system), then commuters will be “stranded” at the MRT stations. then you have to expand the park and ride scheme. or worse, commuters will be put off, and will drive instead.

    why is PEMANDU not doing things that is right? now it has to look at the popularity of its decisions? Politics involved here? when we get sick, we have to swallow bitter medicines so that we can get healthy again. so, what is the prescriptions for our public transports illness?

    I am just wondering how many buses can Prasarana purchase to increase the bus networks with RM36b?

  3. By the way, I believe mrt is more than just one rail lines. Since they are going to construct the line in different phases, how can they make sure they will integrate it “PROPERLY, WHOLESOMELY AND ADEQUATELY” at the same time the cost won’t rise like hell in the FUTURE!!! Don’t tell me after 15 years the total construction cost becomes RM120 billion due to the excuse of increment and inflation in the cost of materials. Who is going to foot the bill then???

    1. Hi Jeffrey

      We agree that the MRT network is more than one line. Unfortunately, the numbers are not clear on how much the whole network is going to cost. Even the RM36.6 billion (for civil works only) does not consider other capital costs (trains, feeder buses) or operational costs.

      We are saying that we agree with the proposed Sg. Buloh – Damansara – KL – Cheras – Kajang line – in fact almost everyone agrees – though we have some reservations and lots of concerns.

      Our biggest concern: The numbers are not accurate enough to justify the construction costs.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  4. what’s the hurry? 36 billion is a lot of money.. In my opinion, that amount of money should be channeled to bus network. MRT or any kinds of rail system could not cover the whole Klang Valley. So, bus system should be feeder service to this MRT and it should compliment this rail line.
    With adequate connectivity to MRT, LRT, KTM, then they could attract riders to use this service. initially idris jala want to implement this charging, then suddenly change his statement. For sure the 50% modal share could not be achieved

    1. @Batai

      Thanks for the comment – but frankly, RM36billion would be enough to pay for bus rapid transit networks in every city in Malaysia and some small towns as well.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

    1. Hmmm…so perhaps the election will be held later in 2011 – after construction for the MRT starts (July 16) and after the Ramadan goodies are dished out (the whole month of August).

      Interestingly enough, Aidilfitri will be taking place in early September, a few days after Merdeka Day.

      Perhaps this means there will be an election at the end of September….

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

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