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Optimise long-term effectiveness for public transportation

It is critical to ensure that the people have access to an efficient train system that aligns with the country's goal of making Klang Valley accessible by 2040.

Zulhafiy Zol
4 minute read

The recent closure of 16 LRT stations between Ampang Park and Kelana Jaya since Nov 8 has not only disrupted public accessibility but also caused difficulties and frustration among public transport users. 

Almost 200,000 Klang Valley commuters have been unable to use public transportation, along with the main and heavy train stations connecting people to Kuala Lumpur's city centre. While it normally takes one day to resolve a problem like this, Prasarana stated that it will take a week to fix the malfunction issue of the line's automatic train control (ATC) system, until Nov 15.

This, in some ways, exposes Malaysia's public transportation as inefficient, and can hinder the goal of transitioning to a car-free nation where public transportation can be the first choice for the public.

National Recovery Council chairman Muhyiddin Yassin has also urged the caretaker government to be more responsible in developing contingency plans and taking immediate action to address the LRT issue.

We certainly do not want a repeat of the terrible events of the Kelana Jaya LRT collision in 2021. For the time being, suspending train services may be a wise idea to ensure public safety, but how far can we guarantee that an issue of negligence like this will be addressed promptly by the responsible bodies and authorities? A more optimised, long-term strategy in upgrading Malaysia's public transportation system is needed. 

The public has expressed their dissatisfaction on social media, noting that this is not the first time they have encountered problems with Malaysia's train services. There was a time when the train stopped for longer than usual at certain stations, indicating that there must be a major problem with the efficiency of our public transportation services. Given the ongoing train shutdown, some commuters will have to travel for additional hours to get to work and back home. Imagine how much of a burden this would be for some people.

Although the transport ministry and Prasarana have mobalised an additional 120 feeder buses on five routes along the Kelana Jaya line, we can only imagine how crowded the conditions on the buses might be. Consider the number of people that a train can carry in comparison to the capacity of bus services. In the end, if the feeder bus is ineffective, people will rely on ride-hailing services such as Grab, which are much more expensive. 

As a regular MRT feeder bus user, when the MRT Kwasa Damansara and Sungai Buloh routes were terminated for the MRT Phase 2 launch earlier this year, I could understand how disappointed commuters were as we had to wait even longer for the feeder bus, with a low frequency of once in every 30 minutes. 

On top of the Klang Valley's traffic congestion, especially during extreme weather and rush hour, taking a bus may not be a good idea because buses have no special lane and will get stuck in traffic. Perhaps this is why people are hesitant to use bus services and prefer to commute by train. According to the Asian Development Bank's Index Score for most congested Asian cities, Kuala Lumpur was ranked second in the region with a score of 1.40 in 2019, trailing Manila with 1.51. 

Worse still, people will walk for long distances to reach their destination. It is so saddening to see that even though our country is a high developing country, it is still not accessible enough in certain areas due to a lack of pedestrian and walk zones. Instead of building train stations in under-development areas, developers and urban planners should consider using Singapore's walkability models which easily integrate pedestrians to the sustainable environment of public transportation stations.

It is also high time that we learnt more from our neighbour Jakarta in its mobility transformation by providing special protected bus lanes to avoid bad congestion woes, as Malaysia has always been known as a car-centric country. Rather than building more highways, expanding the Klang Valley's Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system like the existing one in Bandar Sunway could be a better solution to attract more use of public transportation.

Pulse, the Prasarana-owned mobile app, requires a more supportive and user-friendly experience that includes more important features. For example, a feature that suggests suitable transit point information based on user’s location for all modes of public transportation, including trains and buses. This is due to the fact that there are still members of the public unaware of alternative transit transportation options. An emergency chat support should also be added to inform users of which routes are inoperable or have been shut down.

Improving public transportation infrastructure necessitates a strong political will to ensure that all related master plans and the National Transport Policy 2019-2030 are well executed. This brings up the question of to what extent the recent release of manifestos by Pakatan Harapan (PH), Barisan Nasional (BN), and Perikatan Nasional (PN) have addressed public transportation issues to increase the people's welfare ahead of the 15th general election.

PH plans to introduce a RM5 daily fare limit to encourage more citizens to use public transportation, as well as to make public transportation stations walkable within 10 minutes. Meanwhile, PN seeks to empower the public transportation system, including the country's integrated public transportation network, which connects public transportation stations to public health centres for the elderly and between rural and sub-urban areas. BN, in contrast, strives for environmentally friendly public transportation and government vehicles.

Of course, all political coalitions must work on these well-spoken manifestos for them to be realistic and not mere rhetoric. Overall, it is critical to ensure that the people have access to an efficient train system that aligns with the country's goal of making Klang Valley accessible by 2040.

Zulhafiy Zol is a master’s candidate specialising in defence studies at the faculty of administrative science and policy studies at UiTM Shah Alam.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.