The following is a letter from Moaz, a fervent public transport advocate on the recent cabinets (in)decision to withdraw subsidies from RapidKL, which I thought was worth antithetical to exactly what the government needs to do with public transport at this point of time.
It is interesting to know that the recent decision by the Cabinet Commitee to withdraw the RapidKL operations subsidy was made at the same time that a court case that same subsidy was still pending. You may recall the lawsuit announced by Metrobus in March 2008. Metrobus named the CVLB as a defendant and indicated in the court proceedings that the CVLB had breached their own regulations by allowing RapidKL to offer a lower fare than the other operators. The court case was to be mentioned in late April, but I presume it still pending. In any case, the Cabinet Committee has effectively decided on the court case in favour of Metrobus.
It is ironic that the pressure on RapidKL is coming from their offering fares that were "too low" for the industry. It is ironic because normally the Malaysian government focuses on prices that are too high. In this era of inflation, one would think that a company offering low prices would be applauded. Well, Air Asia and Malaysia Airlines are applauded, but for some reason, RapidKL has their operations subsidy withdrawn. The new fare structure has been decided in Putrajaya, with very little consultation with RapidKL and clearly, very little interest in the wishes or the needs of passengers.
This kind of interference by the Cabinet Committee and the federal government, combined with their ignorance and lack of interest in local affairs, suggest a serious mismanagement of public transportation in this country.
That is why I am quite surprised to hear that the Cabinet is still continuing with the withdrawal of the operations subsidy to RapidKL, especially at this time when there should be a greater boost for public transportation.
In most places throughout the world, it is accepted that it is very very tough for public transport operators to make a profit without sacrificing service. Most countries and cities provide funds for their public transport operators. Here in Malaysia, it seems that the government wants to do the opposite, pushing bus operators to sacrifice service in order to make a profit.
How can the government talk about improving public transportation when they cannot even provide operations funding (let's not call it a subsidy) for the bus operators?
In fact, the government should be increasing the funds available to public transport operators, either through capital or operations funds. Perhaps this would lead the other bus operators to improve the frequency, punctuality, and reliability of their services. RapidKL may have a long way to go in terms for frequency, punctuality and reliability but they are miles ahead of the bus operators.
Finally, the government should be using this opportunity to implement KUTA, the proposed Klang Valley Urban Transport Authority, which was suggested more than 10 years ago. The presence of a Regional/Local Public Transport Authority for the Klang Valley will make a huge difference. With the cooperation of local government and the Public Transport Authority, we could see a huge increase in the quality of public transport services, in a very short time.
With the recent increase in petrol prices, the rakyat would expect that their government would act to show Malaysians that they are actually taking real steps to improve public transport. The withdrawal of the RapidKL operations funds, the long delay of the proposed Klang Valley Urban Transport Authority, and the continued investment in LRT and monorail construction show us that the government is either not ready or not willing to take these real steps and prefers instead to dream the "LRT Dream" and ignore the "bus nightmare."
Moaz Yusuf Ahmad
moaz.ahmad (at) gmail (dot) com