The Star did a story on the dilemma faced by developers and residents in the future development on Petaling Jaya. It's a pretty long story which you can read here. My comments were sought and most were included at the end of the story.
The full text of my email interview is as follows:
1. How do you think Petaling Jaya should improve further? But can the saturated city sustain such changes?
Frankly speaking, "saturation" is a relative term. Compared to major cities in the world such as London, Tokyo or even Singapore, the population and built up space in Petaling Jaya is still relatively moderate and there's clearly room for additional growth.
However, such densities can only be achieved if there is matching infrastructure and behavioural changes accompanying the growth of the city in terms of development. At this point of time, the city of Petaling Jaya is "saturated" because the level of service from public transportation is far below the required levels of comparable cities. As a result, without the accompanying "people-movers" via the public transport system, Petaling Jaya has hit its growth bottleneck.
The problems faced by Petaling Jaya residents are part of a larger endemic problem facing Klang Valley constituents.
As an example, the city of Singapore has nearly 3,500 buses serving a population of less than 5 million and the size of 700sq km, while in the Klang Valley, RapidKL has less than 1,000 buses service an area of 2,900 sq km, and a population of nearly 6 million.
2. What are the matters to take note of in carrying out these improvements?
There's a major problem when dealing with public transportation issues, not only in Petaling Jaya but the entire country. Currently, the local councils which are agencies which are best placed to develop and design public transport routes and hubs in their respective zones are completely left out of the planning picture by the federal agencies. It runs contrary to international established practices of delegating transport management powers to local government authorities, instead of attempting to plan transport routes for all cities in the country from a highly centralised government.
It makes a complete mockery of the system when local councils decide where bus stops are built, but it's the federal government and agencies which design bus routes, and decides the who, the how and the frequency of operations for each route.
The recent set up of the Public Transport Commission attempted to unite the disparate federal agencies dealing with public transport which currently falls under 4-5 different ministries, but it fails to decentralise the planning, design and running of local public transport systems to the rightful authorities. For example, in the 10th Malaysia Plan, all responsibilities of increasing and improving bus services in various cities are placed with RapidKL or its parent, Syarikat Prasarana Bhd. It will become a recipe for failure as 1 company will not be able to cope with the demands of every city, and the lack of competition will only encourage falling productivity and efficiency.
I would call for a thorough transformation of how public transportation is managed in Malaysia which is critical to unclog the development bottleneck in our cities such as Petaling Jaya. Car ownership rates in the Klang Valley is more than 1:1, meaning that every baby born already "owns" a car. This ownership ratio must be reduced by as much as half before traffic congestion issues ease substantially for the next phase of urban growth. And this goal can only be achieved by inject an element of competition in public transport, decentralise decision making to local authories and making public transport requirements an integral part of all development orders approved by the local council.