Bus system improvements to include a little bit of London and a little bit of Kelantan?

TRANSIT took note of this very interesting interview in the NST with SPAD CEO Mohd Nur Kamal, discussing the bus transformation plan and proposals for implementation of improved bus services.

It is interesting to note that SPAD is learning from London and will be applying their knowledge in Kelantan.

Bus system to go London style? (NST)

26 February 2012

Mohd Nur Kamal, chief executive of the Land Public Transport Commission which just turned 1 in January, tells Tan Choe Choe that his agency is looking at several options but more time is needed to come up with the best solution to the national bus crisis.

SPAD CEO Mohd Nur Kamal. Image courtesy of NST.

Question: The bus crisis — why was it allowed to spiral so out of control?

Answer: Part of it was the mandate in the set-up of the organisation. The Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB) was back then with the Ministry of Entrepreneurial Development. Their mandate was to nurture entrepreneurs, and not so much making sure public transport was run systematically; enough supply for the demand at the time. So we learn from our mistakes, that that may not be the right focus now. It could be because back then there weren’t enough bus operators, but now it’s different. Now it’s about making sure that things are run systematically, service is provided and in such a way that it encourages public transport usage. If not, we will have a situation like we have now in Kuala Lumpur at 8 o’clock in the morning.

Question: Why did it take so long for action to be taken — action that seems would not have come about without the interference of the prime minister?

Answer: Actually, it is a very complex situation where there are no clear-cut solutions (or) answers to it. It involves a lot of money, for one thing, and the other, it is about economics. Whether you allow free market or you allow for regulated market. The situation is there already. We have a situation where revenue is lower than operating costs. These bus companies have managed to stay as long as they have, but the market situation was just not conducive.

The revenue side — primarily because of a drop in ridership. People are more affluent, they have cars, it’s easy to buy motorcycles and the fares are regulated. So these, coupled with huge increases in operating costs, to just quote some figures — vehicle costs have gone up 50-70 per cent in the last 10 years, diesel prices have gone up 200 per cent, tyre costs, 200 per cent, spare parts costs, 300 per cent more — have contributed to a very difficult situation.

But the government is not to be blamed. We don’t make all these costs go up. At the same time, we have to be responsible enough to maintain fares that are affordable enough for people to take public transport. It’s not an issue of the government not doing anything. The prime minister intervened by creating Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD). We were entrusted to help him figure out how to address not only this, but public transport in general, because he sees this as a key thrust to move the country forward. We cannot have the economic transformation that we planned if there’s not enough mobility in our cities and mobility between rural areas and the cities. And it also cannot attract enough foreign direct investment (FDI), unless we systematically fix our cities.

Question: How do we do that?

Answer: We’re looking at several models for the long term. Because right now, the revenue risk is on the operator. The operating costs are borne by the operator and they have used this situation to come up with excuses to run the operation the way they like. They “pajak” to drivers, who then run it the way they like, which is not good for public transport because we need scheduled services. We need fixed routes so that people know what to expect. They can take public transport if they know the bus will be on time and going on a specific route. But now, especially those who “pajak” their buses to other drivers, run only during peak periods. They clog up traffic by parking by the roadside in the middle of the city , until the next peak period arrives for the people to go home. This cannot go on.

Question: The government has approved a fund of RM400 million to assist stage bus companies. Is this a short-term plan?

Answer: Yes, it is an interim solution to keep the bus operators afloat while, at the same time, we are exploring several options, analysing to see which one works.

One solution may not fit all so we may have to carve it, depending on specific market conditions, depending on the characteristics of the city and (whether) it’s a medium-sized city or rural area.

Question: What about SPAD’s Bus Transformation Plan (BTP) — is that the long-term plan you are looking at?

Answer: Yes, that gives the high-level direction and from there, we have identified the options. This Bus Transformation Plan is part of the Greater KL-Klang Valley land public transport master plan. It looks at the urban situation and outlines several strategic thrusts. That is at the public feedback stage. Part of the problem is that we don’t have data. We don’t even know how many actually ride the buses because we are depending on bus operators to report and some will be open to report, (while) the majority will just keep quiet.

Question: When is the deadline for public to give feedback on the BTP?

Answer: It’s not set yet because there are two parts to this. One is the Greater KL-Klang Valley, that’s the first regional public transport master plan (already on website), but we are also working in parallel on a national, macro-level public transport master plan. We are finalising that. Once we’re done, we’ll put it up for public feedback as well.

Question: I understand it looks at the London model for bus transport?

Answer: It’s one of the solutions that we’re looking at. You see, rather than operators concentrating on picking up, making sure that their revenues are maximised in terms of fighting for passengers, it’s better that they focus on operations. They know exactly how much it costs to run, and they know exactly when to run and where to run. In London, it’s like that. All the red double-decker buses are operated by many different companies. They don’t worry about how much revenue from fares they will collect because all that money will go to the government agency, Transport for London. All they know is that they run certain routes, certain frequencies a day, they will get those based on the number of kilometres that they run.

So we are looking at that as a potential solution. Then it doesn’t matter if it’s a government-owned company or a private entity, as long as that route is specified, we’ll tender the route and see who can run it at the best possible cost. If it’s a heavy route and we require many buses, we may open it up for multiple companies to run. But they don’t have to worry about how much in fares they collect.

Question: The lack of data — wasn’t this highlighted to the bus operators when they met you to find a solution to their problem?

Answer: Yes, but they still don’t want to give the data. Some don’t even know it themselves. Also financial data. So we are using this interim bus fund to make it a condition for them to give us data.

Question: Hence your application process for the fund lists out all sorts of documents that are needed.

Answer: Yes, that’s why it’s a bit more onerous for them because we are using this trust fund in a two-pronged way, to make sure that the service continues and to get what we need. It’s necessary because we can’t operate blindly and pick an ultimate long-term solution without knowing the real situation. So we don’t spend money unnecessarily and over-prescribe when the problems are small or under-prescribe when the problems are big.

Question: Is there any favourite model or proposal you favour as a long-term solution?

Answer: We are assessing potentially different models for different areas. Ultimately, we need to reduce the amount of money that the government has to pay while meeting the needs of the public. At the same time, we want operators to run at maximum efficiency, then we will benchmark across domestic players as well as international. We have to look at route optimisation. We have to re-configure the routes. It cannot be too many players plying the same routes and not enough plying other routes. That’s why it takes a long time because we have many areas to cover.

We’re designing an umbrella solution for most of the country. But in Kelantan, we are looking to experiment with a slightly different solution. This has elements of the long-term solution. It’s easy because Kelantan has only one operator. Plus they have the infrastructure in place — it’s cashless and has GPS (Global Positioning System) on-board.

Question: You mean Kelantan is conducive for us to immediately try out the London model?

Answer: Almost. They use prepaid tickets, which are sold in shops everywhere. The revenue will go to a fund which we control and will be used to pay them based on the kilometres they run. We are negotiating to explore this in Kelantan. For other states, there are still other variables to look into, so it’s more difficult to experiment. If it works, then we will implement it elsewhere. The key for Kelantan is using this to increase service levels. Do you know schoolchildren there don’t take school buses? They get on stage buses to go to school. The service is key to the well-being of the people there. If negotiations go well, we can expect it to happen in March.

At the end of it, what matters is the public. This whole programme is not about helping bus operators. It’s about helping the rakyat, and we never forget that.

Question: The state government of Malacca has signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the Malacca Omnibus Operators’ Association to take over bus operations in the state. How do you view that development?

Answer: We can’t make a judgment call at this point because it depends on what will be the outcome. Does it promote public transport, does it promote cost efficiency? Depending on the incentives that are given, in some instances, it’s better for private operators to run. In some instances, public-owned companies are better. It goes beyond the model itself. It goes on the details, the mechanics of it. If it’s not managed well, it doesn’t matter who owns it, it’s still going to be bad.

Question: I understand that there will be a monitoring mechanism put in place to ensure those who take the money will comply with certain performance standards. What are the key performance indicators?

Answer: Yes, it will be part of the agreement that we will sign with the operators, to specify which routes, what will be the frequency, and so on. They will have to agree and sign the agreement before we can distribute the fund.

Question: What if after they get the money, they still say it’s not profitable for them to operate?

Answer: Then we have to re-look it; is it because of the ridership or because of operation costs, were they efficient enough? If we think that the amount is reasonable and some other companies can operate, then we have to agree on a separation and get somebody else in.

Question: If that is what happens, and if they cannot deliver, they don’t have to pay back the money?

Answer: We’re paying the money on a progressive basis, based on services rendered. We’re not giving them a lump sum upfront for the whole year. That would be too dangerous. Because we are very, very careful with the money. This is public money, we are protecting it and we are minimising any potential for it to be abused. It’s not about being punitive. It’s about understanding what the real problem is. If the economics really cannot sustain it, then we have to do something else.

Question: How many bus operators have applied for the funds?

Answer: Thirty-five out of 153. Some are still collecting data. Some do not run themselves, but give it to other people to run on a “pajak” basis so they know they don’t qualify because these are the people who are getting the fixed amount per day anyway. We want to help the genuine operators, those who we want to grow and develop together to become real players in the long-term. There will be more. Some are still collecting data.

Question: How many do you expect to come forward?

Answer: Hard to say, at least 100. There’s no deadline for the fund application.

Question: When will you have a firmer proposal on how to end this crisis?

Answer: We expect to go to the government before the fund runs dry (laughs). Before the end of this year. I don’t want people to think that we are working on one thing at a time, in isolation. Our first major news was MRT (mass rapid transit). And then we were working on the Urban Rail Development Plan. Then we rolled out a Bus Transformation Plan, and then there’s going to be a Taxi Transformation Plan. All these things are being considered comprehensively and we want to convey to the public that the solutions are being done together, holistically and comprehensively.

Question: A Taxi Transformation Plan? That’s new. When is it going to be out?

Answer: It’s coming. (laughs).

TRANSIT Says:

We obviously will have a lot to say about the interview and give our feedback through the media and perhaps directly to SPAD CEO Mohd Nur Kamal. As always, we at TRANSIT want your thoughts, opinions and feedback on the interview and the SPAD proposals.

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8 thoughts on “Bus system improvements to include a little bit of London and a little bit of Kelantan?”

  1. I was in London last 3 weeks ago. I am very pleased with their tube, DLR, rails , cabs (except asian driver- they charged extra compared what being told by the taxi booth) and buses.It’s was very convenience. However, because they have major upgrade now, there would be lines closed for work. But the best part, there are many alternatives routes (tube/rails) So it didnt made commuter stuck at a station/line.

    The buses felt like i was in their tube, with their electronic board and voice guideline. i dont see any buses queue long like Metrobuses. that disrupt traffic. And the buses is clean and comfortable. A very detail of bus lines was provided in all bus stop . you can also get all this info at rail stations.

    Oyster card is very convenience and cheap. They charge up to maximum limit. after which, it would be free.
    More info : http://www.tfl.gov.uk/

    Another key point, they had many maps situated almost every street, so pedestrian like me (tourists) won’t lost in the city. I knew exactly where am I. The maps provide many useful infomation on location of all major attractions. it felt like , we in a “big shopping malls” with the “floor to floor guideline” when i in any part of London…….

    Now i am back to KL,….i won’t turn back to Public transport as a year ago, unless it’s on par with London/Singapore. I dont want to waste my precious time and sweat on the road. It’s still not yet well cover all the major area in Klang Valley. By the time the MRT materialized, most of us may be too old to use the MRT. what more now that there are many residents that opposed here and there, i dont think MRT would be on time.

    As what i told my colleagues, this MRT may not for us. it’s for the new generation. (perhaps)

  2. Still about kelantan… How about capital city kuala lumpur transport… Ktm komuter still delay… Bus still Not may… This what we call pepople come first.. Good government…

  3. Msian public transport is a complete joke. However, certain quarters still think we’re anywhere near London/Singapore standards. What a joke!

  4. To wrongdoings_rapidKL i been to singapore and used their MRT, Its so so convinience and superior!…. The inquiry doesn’t mean its end, but means for improvement.(How many disruption happen in Singapore ? do u have any data ?)and they dont wait for years before taking any serious action. Whereas in Malaysia, i don’t recall after how many complains from public that finally make the authority open their eyes and start doing something. and perhaps it’s because of 2008 that finally made Public transport on national agenda. Just look at KTMs, the “sardin” situation is not something happen in a year or two. But have been decades… Yet , they make the “sardin” more worse, when they align it to Midvalley….no action taken, by authority until recently.

    To wrong doings_rapidKL, for the past 20 years plus plus, since i were small, i took public transport. from mini bus until RapidKL era, I i can tell If our public transport is anywhere near the standard of others countries like Singapore , Seoul and London. When we still with mini bus in 80s and 90s other countries already started to build MRT/LRT lines. We are no where to reach such capacities in this short times.

    Abit history : Opening;
    Singapore MRT line – 1987 (now : 141 stations with more than 200 km lines and expanding)
    Hong kong MRT – 1979 (now :155 stations with more than 212 km lines and expanding)
    Manila LRT Line 1/MRT-3 – 1984/1999 (now :42 stations and expanding)
    Seoul MRT – 1974 (now 328 stations with cover 927.4 km and expanding)
    London Tube/- 1863 (now 270 stations with more than 402 km)
    Bangkok MRT and BTS – 1999 (now 30 BTS stations + 18 MRT stations with more than 58 km lines and expanding)
    Taipei MRT – 1996 ( now : 96 stations with more than 110.1 km and expanding)

    and KL (Ampang /Kelana Jaya/Monorail Line) – 1995/1998 /2003 (60 stations cover 56 km lines)

    (Source : Wikipedia,accesed on 30/7/2012)

    Are we any near to Singapore/HK/London/BKK/Seoul/Taipei?

  5. The reply by Goh MH on July 30, 2012 at 2:30 am is full of rubbish! From every word written by him, it seems like he is extremely ignorant of what’s happening around. In the first paragraph, Goh wrote:” The inquiry doesn’t mean its end, but means for improvement.” How do he/she know that? Is he/she telling us that he/she have a crystal ball?
    He questioned the frequency of disruptions in Singapore & demanded some statistics. Instead, he should go ask Mr Lee how many times he prohibited his state controlled media to print such disruptions. In fact, is it illogical to say that the report has been edited by this old fart before being made public?
    And it seems like he does not seem to understand what is the message conveyed in the Singapore MRT inquiry. Based on the inquiry, it is clear that SMRT is good only at face value & their public transportation has been operated in an extremely unethical manner. In other words, SMRT has been cheating the public from DAY ONE! How on earth can a country like Singapore have an operation such as this? What if due to this lackadaisical procedures, one or more of the trains caught fire underground at peak hours, killing thousands, one of his/her loved ones included? Will Goh still hit back at anyone who say anything not to his/her liking? And as we speak, the construction of the Downtown Line at Bugis interchange suffered an accident, killing 2 workers. This is not the first occurrence of such incident. When the Circle Line was under construction, the tunnel boring machine suffered a massive cave-in, killing four. Once again, guys at Singapore will give lame excuses such as “this is merely an isolated incident.” All these comes from an island which pride itself as “First World”!
    It has been proven that almost no working day in Singapore goes on without the fear of getting stuck in the tunnel for more than a few hours, arriving late for work, suffering pay cuts or disciplinary actions for your superiors. It has also been proven that almost no working day in London goes on without the fear of a repeat of the 7th of July. Even if public transportation in these cities are indeed so great, it is extremely meaningless if people have no sense of security riding them.
    Today, people on Singapore coutinue ride in super-packed buses & trains. It is not uncommon to wait for more than half an hour for a bus, then the driver refused to stop, & you are forced to remain in the bus stop, wondering when will the next bus arrive. Hundred meter long queues are not uncommon in train stations. It is also not uncommon to see several trains passing in one direction but none in the other. If this is not enough, fares were raised to punish the people right after the May 2011 elections.
    Goh also suggested that all these while nothing has been done for Malaysia’spublic transportation, & it was the results of the 2008 elections that finally made public transportation in the national agenda. The paragraph was ended with the phrase :” no action taken, by authority until recently.” He does not seem to know that our rail lines such as the Amapng Line & the Kelana Jaya Line has been running like clockwork before the start of the new millennium. Pls also note that our current LRT extension & the MRT has been in the drawing board before 2008. If Goh’s accusations are true, isn’t it more logical to say that the Singapore MRT inquiry was made to cool down public anger after the May 2011 elections? We can only say that Goh’s accusations are totall baseless, politically motivatived & professionally calculated to destroy this nation.
    Finally, Goh quoted some figures from Wikipedia to make a comparison of public transportation in different cities. Can we trust the authenticity of these figures when we know that anyone can just go in & put anything they like?
    I have been on public transportation since school & it is no doubt that it is the laziness of Malaysians that is keeping them on their cars. It has been proven that Malaysians are one of the laziest animals in the planet. In the days in my University, it is not uncommon to see students & lecturers taking the lift from the Ground Floor to the 1st Floor. (Yes, your eyes did not lie. GROUND TO FIRST FLOOR, not to the tenth or hundredth floor) If anyone still don’t believe, I am happy to borrow a magnifying glass or a microscope). By now you don’t need my former Professor to tell you they will use public transportation or otherwise, don’t you? Our public transportation may or may not be great. But now we know the reason for all these bashings. Goh quoted so many figures from Wikipedia. Whether the figures are true or false does not matter. Is there any need to build so many rail & bus routes when people are so lazy?
    I don’t expect anything written here to go down well with those public transport bashers out there. Nonetheless, I don’t care. If anyone does not like what I write, there’s nothing I can do to help them.

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