TRANSIT took note of this interview of Prasrana Group Managing Director Shahril Mokhtar, in which he comments on the need for a total overhaul of public transport in the Klang Valley.
Shahril was previously the Chief Operating Officer of the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) who’s CEO Mohd Nur Ismal Kamal has indicated that there are plans to reform buses – but we do not know if this amounts to total overhaul.
Public transport needs total overhaul (Free Malaysia Today)
February 15, 2011
The public transport system in the Klang Valley is in a mess and only a complete restructuring can repair the damage.
PETALING JAYA: Nothing short of a total overhaul will save the Klang Valley from its public transport mess.
[TRANSIT: We hope for FMT’s sake that the above is actually a quote – wouldn’t want to have any confusion here.]
Prasarana managing director Shahril Mokhtar said that the Klang Valley’s public transport system needed to be restructured.
He added that the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) had a long road ahead in getting this done.
(A government-linked company, Prasarana currently owns RapidKL, RapidPenang and the KL Monorail.)
“There’s a high possibility that the industry needs to be restructured. If we were to do that and put more buses on the roads, everyone would be happy,” he told FMT in an interview.
[TRANSIT: So who said “total overhaul” here? Not us. Not that we don’t agree that reforms and restructuring are needed.]
Klang Valley’s problems
Shahril said that many of the Klang Valley’s transport problems stemmed from the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board’s (CVLB) previous unchecked distribution of bus licences.
[TRANSIT: And if you asked the CVLB, they would say that they did not want to issue too many licenses. And if you asked the operators, they would say the problem was issuing licenses to RapidKL.]
He also said that town planning in the Klang Valley was not very well done, contributing to the problem.
“Klang Valley is not a really stable area just yet, like London. It’s not very planned out, and it’s a bit weird. You can see new tamans (housing estates) coming up almost every other month,” he said.
[TRANSIT: London was not exactly planned out either – when the railways were built it was in a similar mess.]
Shahril also told FMT that many bus companies preferred to operate on heavily travelled lucrative routes, while shying away from the less profitable social ones.
He said that SPAD needed to relook at existing bus routes and package the lucrative and the less profitable social routes together.
He added that the government needed to introduce KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to these bus routes, and penalise errant operators if they were not performing.
“Penalties should be the way to go, as it keeps us (operators) on our toes. As an operator, I don’t mind, though it must also be on the other companies as well,” he said.
‘Seoul was like KL’
Shahril said that many countries with good public transport systems were often managed by local authorities, who would contract the routes to operators.
Taking a page from South Korea, he said that Seoul’s bus network was just as convoluted as the Klang Valley’s five years ago. However, aggressive reform policies by the local government there had changed things for the better.
[TRANSIT: But if you ask a local government to take action in Malaysia (and we have, many times), they say that public transport is a federal responsibility]
“Seoul used to have a problem with its bus system. It was very similar to ours five years ago. But they restructured all the bus networks, mixed lucrative and social routes, introduced KPIs and subsidised bus operators,” he said.
Local government’s role
On local government, Shahril said that the local authorities needed to play a more proactive role when it came to public transport.
[TRANSIT: See our comment above]
One of these areas was information on RapidKL’s bus routes. Many bus stands throughout the Klang Valley, he admitted, had outdated information on schedules.
“The people are not satisfied with the current information. It’s one of the areas I want to improve on, because not everyone can go to the Internet to check on bus routes,” Shahril told FMT.
The RapidKL boss said that bus stops came under the purview of the local government. “I cannot simply go to a bus stop and put up an info board, because I would need approval from the authorities,” he said.
He said that in 2006, Prasarana had coughed up close to RM2 million in putting up poles and bus info boards for the public.
Yet today, many of these poles are in disrepair. Some have even been defaced by loan shark advertisements.
“We are ever willing to work with the local government. But as they own the bus stops, they have to take the lead, and work with us very closely,” he said.
[TRANSIT: Sorry, we are a bit confused here. Why is the local government responsible for the information posted on pole placed by Prasarana at local bus stops? Isn’t the information and those poles the responsibility of Prasarana?
We would all like improvements to the design, but let’s make sure that what we are stuck with actually works and is maintained too.]
In the red
However, Shahril said that money was not easy to come by. Although his company was fully supported by the government, funds were another another matter.
“We’re a government-owned company, but we can’t simply ask the government for RM1 million and expect to get it. We don’t operate that way. If you want to buy buses, you need to go to the banks and get money,” he told FMT.
Contrary to popular opinion, Shahril told FMT that Rapid’s services (including RapidPenang) did not receive subsidies from the government.
“We only get partial fuel subsidies for our buses. It is only up to a certain limit,” he said, adding that revenue from RapidKL’s LRT (Light Rail Transit) supported its bus services.
“The buses are not making money, but we still have to run them because it is for the rakyat,” Shahril said, adding that RapidKL operated 1,200 buses within the Klang Valley for its 670 routes.
“If I wanted to make money from buses, I could just put only 500 buses for all the lucrative routes. But as we’re government-owned, we don’t look at it that way. It’s a social obligation.”
Meanwhile, Shahril told FMT that RapidKL was going to put in a Fleet Tracking System (FTS) for its bus fleet by the third quarter this year.
He said that the FTS had originally been installed in RapidPenang’s bus fleet, to much success.
He added that RapidKL buses would come installed with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, and would have their locations displayed on LCD screens at all major RapidKL hubs around the Klang Valley.
“All our buses would be fully equipped, so that passengers would know their ETA (estimated time of arrival). We would also be able to find out where our buses are and give traffic directions,” Shahril said.
He added that major hubs included the Central Market bus stop. Smaller bus stands would either have a smaller version of these LCD screens or a phone number on a bus’ ETA.
“Passengers will know when the bus is going to come, so they can go for their teh tarik while they wait for the bus,” Shahril laughed.
Crossing his fingers on this, he hoped that the public would not vandalise these LCD screens.
[TRANSIT: Could we blame them if the bus does not come when it is scheduled to come, even with the GPS tracking. Aside from traffic congestion, lack of schedule enforcement and line management is a significant issue that delays our buses.]</strong
A new bus ticketing system involving Touch ‘nGo (TNG) cards was also in the works. Shahril said that RapidKL passengers would be able to buy TNG cards and reload cash values on the buses.
He also hoped to see RapidKL roll out an additional 470 buses, as well as 70 new eight-metre-long feeder LRT minibuses by September.
“Currently, all our buses are 12-metre models. They are so huge, they cannot manoeuvre into smaller, residential areas. If this works, we may want to get more minibuses,” he said.
He also said that stations were currently undergoing renovations to make them more disabled-friendly.
According to Shahril, RapidKL’s bus ridership was 290,000 a day (between September and December 2010), including a peak-hour ridership of 80,000. This, he said, translated to an average of 8.27 million riders per month.
So there you have it: TRANSIT has shared different views about the future of public transport from the bus operators, from the CEO of SPAD, and the Group MD of Prasarana. All of them collectively say that serious reforms are needed and soon.
Our question is simple – who will step forward and take action, and will the others support the action ‘for the greater good’ (finally, we get to use that phrase) or fight back for their own parochial interests.
(Truthfully, we’re mostly looking at the bus operators as potential sources of resistance … but they are welcome to surprise us.)