Monday, November 16, 2009

The Need for Transport Council

Letter to the editor by Moaz Ahmad of TRANSIT, an NGO dedicated to public transport in the country.

The time is right for Transport Council

The members of the Association for the Improvement of Mass Transit (TRANSIT) know that generally there are two major problems with public transport in Malaysia. The first major problem is a fragmented regulatory system, where regulatory, planning and enforcement powers are divided among 13 different agencies in 6 different government ministries.

This problem has led to poor organization and planning of public transport, underfunding, lack of timely, effective and efficient investment, poor quality and safety levels, and poor government enforcement.

The government is working on resolving the first problem by creating the Public Land Transport Commission, which will take over the duties of the Department of Railways, Road Transport Department and Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board. Creating SPAD will reduce the 13 different agencies into 11 different agencies and only 5 ministries, with more consolidation in the future.

The second major problem is a lack of coordination of public transport service with development & planning. This can be especially obvious in urban public transport situations, where bus operators compete to offer service on higher-demand routes but ignore low-demand routes, block traffic indiscriminately, and use city streets and streets in housing estates as their own 'bus hubs'.

The lack of coordination at the local level is what leads to poor enforcement. It is also what leads to poor service and increased traffic congestion. What's worse, it prevents good public transport ideas from being successful.

One example of this is the whole concept of 'rangkaian pengangkutan integrasi deras,' or the 'rapid integrated transport network.' We are more familiar with the operator, RapidKL, but unfortunately, we see it as just another operator.

When RapidKL was first conceived, it was supposed to improve public transport in the Klang Valley by creating a complete network of services both in the city and the suburban areas. The combination of short distance routes through the "Hub & Spoke System" introduced in January 2006 was expected to cut operating costs and increase the coverage and frequency of service.

Of course, the service did not work as well as anticipated. RapidKL was never really able to meet their promised frequencies and they started revising routes almost immediately. As costs and losses mounted, RapidKL started revising routes, with a massive reduction of Tempatan (Local) service in April 2007. On Monday 16 November, RapidKL will largely shut down its "Bas Bandar" City Shuttle service, replacing these bus routes with extensions of the mainline "Utama" buses.

Responsibility for the failure of the "Hub & Spoke" concept should not be placed at the feet of RapidKL. In fact, it is the lack of coordination that failed RapidKL. Because of the lack of coordination and opportunities to communicate, we see RapidKL as just another operator.

The best solution for our public transport woes is to reduce the fragmentation and increase the level of coordination. And that is why TRANSIT was happy to learn that the Menteri Besar of Selangor has proposed a Klang Valley Transport Council in the 2010 Selangor Budget. (see http://transitmy.org/2009/11/11/selangor-2010-budget/ for an excerpt).

The Klang Valley Transport Council would bring together the 4 stakeholder groups (the wakil rakyat, the civil service, the public transport users and NGOs and the operators) to plan, organize, manage and discuss ways to improve public transport in the Klang Valley - The Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya and the surrounding communities in Selangor.

The Klang Valley Transport Council will bring together the important areas of public transport and the federal and state governments. The State Government will handle the local planning and land use, while the Federal Government will handle the regulation and coordination (through SPAD), overall planning (Economic Planning Unit) and funding (Ministry of Finance).

The beauty of the Klang Valley Transport Council is that all stakeholders will have a voice at the table, including the operators - provided that they have contracts with the Transport Council. The Council will be able to handle local planning and coordinate the different master plans and structural plans of the different authorities.

It will also be able to help with the coordination of transport modes (private and public), and encourage the gradual shift towards public transport use that is a goal of the National Key Result Area.

TRANSIT urges the Selangor government and the Federal Government to cooperate and work together to get the Klang Valley Transport Council operating by early 2010.

Sincerely

Moaz Yusuf Ahmad
on behalf of TRANSIT
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