Friday, October 09, 2009

Public Transport - Penny Wise and Pound Foolish?

Below is an open letter by regular commentator on Malaysia's public transport system, and a founder of TRANSIT Malaysia.

In the past 5 year that I have been watching and analysing public transport in Malaysia, the phrase "penny wise and pound foolish" keeps coming to mind.

This phrase refers to the idea that someone can be so focused on small amounts of money that they do not pay attention to the larger amounts of money that are being lost. And this description is especially apt in Malaysia where we attempt to save millions of ringgit on public transport but end up losing billions of ringgit as a result.

The government of Malaysia never wanted to take up the cost of investing in and operating a public transport system. For that reason, the bus industry was largely privatized. This system operated well for many years, until the government made two crucial decisions that hurt public transport. First, the government invested in private cars, and second, as part of an effort to increase "competition" and cut costs, the government allowed too many companies to enter the public transport markets.

The result of the government's 'penny wise' decision to not invest or operate public bus transport led to massive congestion in Malaysian cities that has cost the local and national economy billions of ringgit every year in terms of lost productivity, wasted time and air pollution (among others).

Instead of spending a little bit of money and increasing regulation and enforcement, the government made the 'pound foolish' decision of taking over bus companies to create Intrakota - which they then merged with CityLiner to become RapidKL. And congestion has only gotten worse.

When it was recognized that there was a need for a higher level of public transport in the form of a rail network, the government allowed KTMB to introduce the KTM Komuter service. Back in the 1990s the government and KTMB were quite "penny-wise" by using existing tracks, building simple stations with small roofs and stairs but no lifts, and buying a small fleet of 60 Electric Multiple Unit trains.

The result of the government's 'penny wise' decision to build the KTM Komuter service at the most basic level has led to massive congestion on the KTM Komuter service as demand has increased by 200% while the number of operating trains has decreased by 65%. KTM Komuter is carrying 3 times the number of passengers with 1-half of the trains. And yet, the government still shows no interest in investing in the new Komuter carriages that are desperately needed.

When it was recognized that there was a need for mass-transit in the cities, the government allowed private companies to take charge of the planning, financing and operations of the LRT and monorail systems. Back then the government was not ready to take on the massive costs of investment in "light" rapid transit, so allowing private companies to take charge reduced the amount of money the government would have to spend.

The result of the government's 'penny wise' decision to let private companies take charge is that the Klang Valley has 3 separate public transport lines that are poorly integrated and use different technologies, and that all 3 companies were unable to meet their projected revenues, which required costly government takeovers.

Today Prasarana has taken over the operations of STAR, PUTRA, CityLiner and Intrakota and replaced them with the RapidKL public transport service and demand for public transport has declined to 16% in Malaysia and less than 20% in the Klang Valley - and the economic losses have continued to mount.

Unfortunately, we have not learned our lesson and continue to apply the same 'penny-wise, pound-oolish' approach. The KRA Urban Transport Panel knows that solutions have been clearly identified but they are still asking the operators for 'feedback' - continuing the 'penny-wise' approach. The public blames KTMB for inefficiency and suggest that they should be 'penny wise' and cut costs but they forget that the problems are caused by the lack of investment - which is only going to cost more in the future. Other people are expressing a 'penny wise' concern that Prasarana has moved to a new office at Bangsar, but they are not concerned about the RM15 billion cost of the proposed LRT lines.
The only way we are going to see real improvement in public transport is when we stop being 'penny wise' and 'pound foolish' and start investing money in public transport to build a system that is well-planned, efficient and very, very effective.


Moaz Yusuf Ahmad
Petaling Jaya, Malaysia


Anonymous said...

Invest here get less kickback but buy helicopters and tanks can make a plenty.
Quietly the target line is set... LIMA for signing anything that can give him and cronies to spent rakyat money.

Anonymous said...

Dear YB Tony,

Although the LRT extension in Klang valley has been approved as reported in the newspapers. Although they claimed that the project will be completed by 2012, but I am still not convinced at all that this it will take off. Any insider news to share here YB? I have lost faith in BN long time ago.

Anonymous said...

If no billion rm project, how to 'cari makan'?! If it fails, govt bailout la.

Never learn or being 'smart'?

Anonymous said...

Talking about public transportation and the traffic condition in Malaysia. I was just driving back from dinner with my family in one of the most congested area in KL. It aches my heart to see a family with two boys, without any helmet, riding with their father on a bike, with heavy traffic passing by.

I turned around and looked at my two sons, who are about the same age as that two little boys, who safely sat behind the car with their seat belts on. I thank God that I can afford to buy a car, being fully aware that there are many families out there who can only afford a motorbike.

I can only pray that God will protect that two little lives with their dad and hope that no accident would ever happen to them.

Of course we can argue that the parents should be the one responsible to make sure their children have their safety protection on, still, I believe things can be much better if we have good and affordable public transportation.

I can see a lot of families, especially Indians and Malays near my area, who are doing the same thing. Sometimes a family of 5 squeeze on a little motor cub, and this kind of cases are getting more and more.

Dear Tony, you and I are so lucky that my kids and your lovely little girl in your family photo here are at least safe in the cars when we are on the street. Just imagine many families who are not and can't afford to...

I hope one day you would be at the position to bring about change to all these.

shinliang said...

I totally agree with the author. Penny wise, pound foolish; and short sighted. In this case, they both apply.

I think the problem is that the ROI for an efficient public transportation system is not simple. Does anyone has any idea on that?

Obviously, the equipments are going to cost quite a lot, since I believe most of them are being manufactured overseas. Our commuters, though, pay in Ringgit Malaysia. If the massively congested public system now is NOT generating enough revenue to sustain the current system, then it is unlikely that a more efficient one can generate more revenue.

I am guessing, that a more efficient system generates more indirect benefits, e.g. to the economy and environment, and this is difficult to quantify??

KoSong Cafe said...

I am glad there is someone like Moaz who is passionate about the transport issue.

There are a multitude of reasons why KL public transport sucks - lack of planning and coordination and will to see through any good plan; and wrong priorities as in some, more interested in making a fast buck.

LRT station Masjid Jamek stood out like a sore thumb in poor planning where one has to get out to get in again to change train. Monorail at brickfields too, cannot connect seamlessly with Sentral.

Without proper preparation, the takeover of private bus companies by two preferred companies in KL was more form than substance after a short period.

Lack of finance? Well, one man's ego in 1Malaysia F1 is more important than the wellbeing of millions of public transport users.

TaxPayer said...

Why 'penny wise pound foolish'? The answer is simply our leader has no long vision but only short one.So everything they plan is 5 years only.Their vision is only that far they can see(may be they are shortsighted).Our neighbour plan for far future but we plan to solve problems.Or may be finance is the constraint but why is that so? The answer is CORRUPTION and ABUSE OF OUR NATIONAL FUNDS.

Anonymous said...








*@*+LuLu+*@* said...

I'm particularly very very interested and passionate about this public transport issue. I think its due to the fact that I lived in Singapore once as a student. Last week i emailed Surprisingly i got a reply. I think rapidkl is doing something (maybe not the best but something) and some friends (who actually take the bus) have encountered similiar pleasant experiences when dealing with the operators of rapidKL where they try to solve and answer ur questions. I think the problem lies with the investment, and now that this article came up... it's evident, rapidkl management can only do so much with the budget they have (micro things like improving frequency, cleanliness, we have lcd tv onboard buses now) BUT the bulk of the problem, route planning, system integration, the macro things... thats hard... Where is my supposedly ready in 2009 kota damansara - KJ LRT line? and Subang line... we desperately need this. I'm a fresh grad, working, and driving is painful in many aspects.

Anonymous said...

All those greedy scums given the contracts are only interest to get as much as they can get out of the contracts. They never have interest for the people. It's only for themselves.
We are sick and tired of them.
We have to keep going on to kick this UMNO/BN government out and to get back what they have stolen and put them behind bars. No two ways about it.

Bangsa Cina Malaysia said...

a blessing in disguise for Pakatan they will have to work more harder as a team/coalition
in confronting an awaken BN...

to all the DAP adun of NS....
this is a wake up call...
without the Malay vote DAP is general election
NS DAP will be totally wipe out unless the start approaching/engaging the Malays who are the majority in NS..

Anonymous said...

Public transport in Klang Valley is actually an interesting study in planning and efficiency. Everyone knows that public transport is difficult anywhere. Take any major city (which is NOT an island) and you will learn how difficult it is.

Klang Valley has a lot of the challenges that other cities have BUT it also do not have some of the challenges. For example suburban sprawl, taking over land, etc.. Klang Valley sits in a narrow Valley - which means that its urban sprawl tend to be one direction - west and south which itself is limited (the sea). Together with strong imminent domain laws, this makes it all possible to design an urban transit provided there is enough commitment and efficiency. Unfortunately from civil servants, planners, mediocre corporate and political leaders, there is not enough talent and skills to make it happen...

True, the bucks lies mostly in BN govt, which only just very telling how mediocre BN govt really. Its the same with Petronas which could have been in the top 50 companies in the world but we keep being proud its in top 500 instead.. Well, being 1/10 of what you are capable of is not going to build a public transport system to most people need and liking..

Anonymous said...

najis n gang shd visit seoul to see how they do it

Anonymous said...

Dear Moaz,
I hear you loud and clear
What a pity your article stays in here
It should be posted and published everywhere far and near
Oh my Malaysia
Such a nice country it appears
Natural disasters seem to avoid us here
But getting around KL is such a fear
Bloody independent for more than 50 years
Still gripping with how to manage the transportation gear
For crying out loud, technology is improving every year
But hell no! Traffic jams are getting worse each year
Let’s take a break and have a beer
We shall talk about this issue next year
Nothing is going to change, I fear
MCA is very busy with leaders change while UMNO with its assembly jeer
I wonder what happened to MIC, oh my dear.
Thanks for your article, Fan here.

SK said...

You must be a very kind person to ask him to play with marbles, I thought he should eat the marbles instead?