Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Land Public Transport Commission Marginalised?

Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) hamstrung even before its task of revamping and regulating Malaysia's public transport system can commence

The Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) was first announced by our previous Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in June 2008. Unfortunately as of today, nearly 2 years later, although the structure of SPAD has been more or less finalised, it's still unable to proceed with its urgent task of revamping, restructuring and regulating our public transport system due to legislative issues.

As the newly appointed Chief Operating Officer, Shahril Mokhtar admitted last Thursday, “we don't have the power just yet”.

What is however most damaging for SPAD, while exposing the Government's lack of coherent policies and actions on public transport is the separate and independent announcement the latter has made on the proposed Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system for Klang Valley.

While SPAD has been given the vital role to co-ordinate, integrate and regulate all public transport systems in the country, it is left completely in the cold in the development of probably Malaysia's biggest public transport investment, estimated at nearly RM50 billion for the next decade.

During the same press conference on Thursday, SPAD admitted that it has not been briefed on the MRT plans, and could only issue a face-saving statement that its officials “will study the MRT proposals and incorporate all of that if possible into its own public transport masterplan for the Klang Valley.”

However, at the same time, it appears that the MRT proposals already coming to fruition with Gamuda's “unsolicited” proposal making significant headways with the Prime Minister's Department.

Gamuda had briefed local research houses that feedback so far on its proposal to build the MRT was “positive”. In fact a report by OSK Research said that the Gamuda management, along with its joint venture partner MMC, feel that they have a 80-85 per cent chance of winning the job and work could commence as early as early 2011.

So confident are they with winning the project that an AmResearch report had said that Gamuda has already commenced soil investigation and survey works to prepare the groundwork for the project.

Gamuda’s management was also able to reveal that the funding for the project would likely be backed by the Federal Government under a deferred payment scheme that may take between 10 to 30 years, implying AAA-rating for any papers to be issued.

In addition, Gamuda has already submitted a legal opinion to the Attorney-General’s office to amend existing legislation to expedite land acquisition!

It cannot be overstated that the Government is putting the cart before the horses, and its rushing headlong as it did in the 1990s when it privatised the various public transport systems – 2 LRT systems, 1 monorail as well as the consolidation of private and public bus companies. The result in the 1990s was disastrous both financially to the government as it had to bail out all of these companies to the tune of nearly RM9 billion, as well as for the complete lack of integration between the different rail lines and bus operations.

It is imperative for SPAD to first design and develop the public transport masterplan for the Klang Valley (as well as other cities) after thorough consultation with state governments, stake holders and public transport experts to ensure an integrated public transport network plan is in place. It is only after such a plan has been developed and endorsed, that action can be taken to execute the plans.

As an example, while Gamuda may have considered the integration of its MRT lines to the existing LRT networks, are they going to be integrated based on optimal public transport connectivity or are they going to be integrated based on Gamuda's own commercial considerations? Are the MRT stations going to be built in areas where bus terminals can be set up adjoined to the stations to ensure an integrated feeder bus network system?

These are questions which only SPAD can resolve and impose on any public transport operator. However, in the Government's eagerness to award the MRT contract to the Gamuda-MMC joint venture, it appears that public interest, especially to create the desperately needed fully integrated public transport system has already taken a back seat.

SPAD must immediately insist to the Prime Minister that any plans to award contracts for a MRT system must only come after it has developed the masterplan, and its plan for execution. Otherwise, the SPAD will just become like most other government agencies, loud with its goals but muted with its execution.
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