• SPAD should ensure a level-playing field between taxi and ehailing drivers and provide these drivers with proper protections and safeguards

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang and Liew Chin Tong, MP for Kluang on the 6th of July, 2017

    SPAD should ensure a level-playing field between taxi and ehailing drivers and provide these drivers with proper protections and safeguards

    With an estimated 37,000 taxi drivers and an estimated 60,000 Uber and Grab drivers in the Klang Valley, this form of public transportation not only provides a crucial service to consumers but also an important source of employment for the drivers themselves. As more and more Malaysians are joining the ranks of e-hailing drivers (GRAB and UBER), either on a part time or on a full-time basis, it is crucial for the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) to ensure that there is a level playing field between the regular taxi drivers and the e-hailing drivers and also to ensure that the taxi and e-hailing drivers themselves are given proper protections and safeguards.

    In a web-based survey conducted in BM and in Chinese by the DAP Research team where we obtained close to 300 replies, we found that 40% of UBER and GRAB drivers are driving their vehicles on a full-time basis and another 53% are driving on a part time basis not as a hobby but as a job. In other words, most UBER and GRAB drivers surveyed depend greatly on their income as drivers. A significant proportion of the drivers surveyed – 64% – have at least a diploma which indicates that many with tertiary qualifications look at e-hailing as a viable form of employment. Furthermore, our survey found that 34% or about one-third of e-hailing drivers are based outside the Klang Valley. This number is likely to grow as UBER and GRAB expand to the cities and smaller towns outside KL and Selangor.

    The average monthly wages for full time drivers were estimated to be approximately RM3200. While this may seem like a decent amount of earnings, it does not take into account the maintenance cost of the vehicles which can average more than RM1000 a month. While e-hailing companies provides personal accident insurance for drivers and passengers, the car insurance and repairs cost are totally borne by the drivers themselves.

    75% of the drivers surveyed feel that the 20-25% commission rate charged by UBER / GRAB are unfair and more than 60% of drivers want the government to regulate the amount of commission which the e-hailing companies can charge. In addition, some drivers also feel that they have no avenues of appeal if they are suspended or banned by UBER / GRAB because of unreasonable complaints by customers. The cases of unfair suspensions will become more serious as the number of full time UBER / GRAB drivers increases, including those who have bought new vehicles for the purpose of becoming full time e-hailing drivers.

    While the proposed amendments to the Land Public Transport Act 2010 and the Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board Act 1987 are a step in the right direction, much more needs to be done including:

    (i)               Increasing the awareness of e-hailing drivers on the details of the amendments

    (ii)              Ensuring that the e-hailing market does not become a monopoly / oligopoly to the detriment of drivers and passengers

    (iii)            Regulating the commission rates which e-hailing companies can charge the drivers

    (iv)            Setting up a Tribunal to hear the appeals of e-hailing drivers who feel they have been unfairly banned / suspended by the e-hailing companies

    (v)              Ensuring that there is a level playing field between the taxi drivers and e-hailing drivers in terms of fares and wages.

    The end goal should be a market whereby taxi drivers as well as e-hailing drivers are properly compensated and the taxi companies and e-hailing companies cannot abuse their oligopolistic / monopolistic positions to mistreat the drivers and give passengers a bad service experience.

    Document: Self-Employed E-Hailing Services Drivers (SEEDs) Survey Findings (5 July 2017)

  • Feedback and Clarification on the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL)

    CEO of SPAD
    Encik Mohd Azharuddin bin Mat Sah
    Block D, Platinum Sentral, Jalan Stesen Sentral 2,
    Kuala Lumpur Sentral, 50470 Kuala Lumpur

    Yang Berusaha Encik Mohd Azharuddin,

    RE: Feedback and Clarification on the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL)

    Based on Section 84 of the Land Transport Act 2010, SPAD began the 3-month process of public consultation and seeking public feedback on the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) on the 8th of March 2017.[1] As a Member of Parliament and a concerned citizen, I hope that SPAD can provide clarification and information on the following points raised below.

    1. Provide detailed breakdown of the cost of the ECRL

    In a report by the Edge in November 2016, Transport Minister Dato Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the following to explain the increase in the estimated cost of the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) from RM29 billion to RM55 billion. “Previously, the length [of the rail link] was 545km; now it is 600km and this does not include the part from Gombak to Port Klang”[2] But on the 13th of May, 2017, during the signing ceremony of Phase Two of the ECRL project, which covers the track from the Integrated Transport Terminal (ITT) Gombak to Port Klang, the Treasury Secretary General, Tan Sri Irwan Serigar was reported to have said that the construction costs for this section for this section of the ECRL was RM9 billion, which, combined with the RM46 billion cost for Phase One for Wakaf Bahru in Kelantan to ITT Gombak in Selangor, would bring the total cost of the ECRL to RM55 billion.[3] This contradicts what was said by Liow Tiong Lai. In the interest of transparency, the government should publish a detailed breakdown of the estimated cost of the entire ECRL including the cost of the 7 segments of the ECRL and the 6 Spur Lines:

    The government should also provide an estimated breakdown of the land acquisition costs which will involve the government buying 8699 lots of private land covering 8376.88 acres or 3390 hectares.

    2. Clarify if the cost of the project only involves a SINGLE TRACK railway line as it is described in the EIA report

    In the Executive Summary of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on the ECRL, it is stated that ‘the ECRL will be an electrified single track railway line built on a double track formation, approximately 532.3km for the main line with another 65.9km of spur lines.”  Does this mean that only a single track will be built for the ECRL even though a railway base that is wide enough for two tracks will be built? If this is the case, then the government needs to explain why a project which costs an estimated RM55 billion will only pay for ONE TRACK.

    I would like to point that the promotional video and materials shown in the public display, on the MRL website and in the youtube videos all indicate that the ECRL has two tracks, not one.

    3. Clarify the total length of bridges and viaducts for the ECRL

    In a statement on the 9th of November, 2016 by Minister in charge of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), Datuk Rahman Dahlan, he said that the ECRL will involve building 110km of bridges.[4] Based on the SPAD public display drawings, a section by section calculation showed 69 bridges with a combined length of 17.7km and 33 viaducts with a combined length of 74.6km. Therefore, the total length of bridges and viaducts (assuming that viaducts are also bridges) is 92.3km. There is a difference of 17.7km between Rahman Dahlan’s statement and our calculations based on the SPAD public display drawings. A difference of 17.7km can translate into billions of ringgit of construction costs. This needs to be clarified by the government.

    4. Explain the rush to sign the agreement for Phase 2 of the ECRL connecting ITT Gombak with Port Klang

    My colleague, ADUN for Damansara Utama, Yeo Bee Yin, had earlier raised the issue of the missing link from ITT Gombak to Klang in the current EIA report available for public display.[5] SPAD responded by saying that there was no missing link and that the link from ITT Gombak to Klang is part of Phase 2 of the ECRL project. SPAD also said that “when the due processes are completed and the extension is ready for execution, SPAD will hold a public display of the conditionally approved railway scheme for this alignment prior to execution”[6] If the due processes have not been completed, why did the government sign a supplementary agreement with the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) during Najib’s visit to Beijing recently for Phase 2 of the ECRL Project?[7]

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament, Serdang

    [1] http://www.spad.gov.my/media-centre/media-releases/2017/public-inspection-railway-scheme-east-coast-rail-link-ecrl-opens
    [2] http://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/liow-explains-big-jump-ecrl-cost
    [3] https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/05/238867/najib-witnesses-signing-ecrl-phase-two-construction-agreement
    [4] https://www.nst.com.my/news/2016/11/187009/statement-ecrl-project-not-hastily-decided-proposed-2007
    [5] http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/379638
    [6] http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/379772
    [7] https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/05/238867/najib-witnesses-signing-ecrl-phase-two-construction-agreement

  • Tweet @PetrajayaMP with Hashtag #JalanBesar to ask the Minister of Works, Fadillah Yusof to to upgrade the road infrastructure along Jalan Besar, Seri Kembangan

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 3rd of September, 2016

    Tweet @PetrajayaMP with Hashtag #JalanBesar to ask the Minister of Works, Fadillah Yusof to upgrade the road infrastructure along Jalan Besar, Seri Kembangan

    Many drivers who have to drive through Seri Kembangan and the Mines Shopping Center would know of the horrific traffic situation, especially at the interchange between Jalan Besar and the BESRAYA highway.

    The horrible traffic situation is a result of bad planning and poor coordination by the various local, state and federal agencies before 2008. My colleague, state assembly representative of Seri Kembangan and Selangor state exco, Ean Yong Hian Wah, has tried to address the situation as best as he can via the Jalan Besar One Way Loop that was funded entirely by the state government. But the bottlenecks remain as shown in the waze screenshot below.

    Figure 1: Waze Screenshot at 618pm on the 15th of March, 2016 showing the traffic congestion along Jalan Besar, Jalan Serdang Perdana and BESRAYA highway

    With the help of students from the Communications and Media School, Portman College, I made a short 4 minute video to explain the existing traffic problems along Jalan Besar which can be viewed on youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAFBKCk58eE.

    As I explain in the video, a series of infrastructure upgrades are needed including the upgrade of the Jalan Besar-BESRAYA interchange near the Mines Shopping Mall, the widening of two bridges (one over the ERL and KTM tracks near South City Plaza and one over the PLUS North South Highway) and the possibility of building a flyover from Serdang Perdana to BESRAYA.

    This kind of large scale infrastructure upgrades can only be achieved with funding from the federal government, specifically, the Ministry of Works. This kind of project also requires the approval of various ministries (such as the Ministry of Transportation) and agencies (such as the National Highway Authority or Lembaga Lebuhraya Malaysia). As such, I am calling on the users of Jalan Besar and voters in Serdang to tweet the Minister of Works, Fadillah Yusof, @PetrajayaMP with the hashtag #JalanBesar to tell him how much they want this project to be approved.

    Finally, I would like to thank Ernie Chan, President of Portman College and the students who participated in this project for their cooperation and hard work in making this video.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

  • Five reasons why public transportation in Malaysia is more expensive compared to Singapore

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 9th of August, 2016

    Five reasons why public transportation in Malaysia is more expensive compared to Singapore[1]

    An MRT ride from the Pasir Ris MRT station in the east to the Pioneer MRT station in the west costs approximately SGD2. An LRT ride from the Gombak station (KJ1) to Putra Heights (KJ37) costs RM6.10.[2] Why does the LRT ride cost three times more in Malaysia compared to Singapore on a dollar for dollar basis?[3] The answer to this question is complex but let me propose a few possible reasons to explain this phenomenon.

    1) Prasarana is unprofitable and has accumulated massive losses over time

    Prasarana Malaysia Berhad is the 100% Ministry of Finance owned company which owns and operates the LRT and bus assets in the Klang Valley (as well as Penang, Kuantan and Kamunting) i.e. MyRAPID. In Singapore, the rail services are mostly operated by SMRT while the bus services are mostly operated by SBS Transit (although there is a limited amount of competition between the two companies).

    Since Prasarana was established in 1998 to take over the assets of the STAR and PUTRA LRT lines, the company has only managed to be profitable in 2 years, way back in 1999 and 2000. It has been making losses in 15 out of the last 17 years. The annual losses reached a record high of RM885.6m in 2014. In contrast, SMRT has recorded a profit in each of the past 16 years while SBST has recorded a profit in each of the past 6 years[4]. (See Chart 1 below)

    Chart 1: Comparing the Profit / Losses of Prasarana in Malaysia and SMRT & SBST in Singapore

    Given this, it is not surprising that Prasarana has accumulated losses of RM5.182billion as of FY 2014 compared to SGD741m and SGD261m in accumulated profits for SMRT and SBST respectively as of FY 2015. (See Chart 2 below)

    Chart 2: Comparing the Accumulated Profits / Losses of Prasarana, SMRT and SBST

    Why are the profits / losses of these public transportation companies important in determining public transportation prices? Because a public transportation company which continues to stack massive losses over time will either have to be bailed out by the shareholders i.e. the government of Malaysia in the case of Prasarana or it will have to reduce its losses by increasing public transportation fares. This is exactly what happened in December 2015 last year when SPAD finally approved the LRT and Bus price hike which Prasarana had been requesting for many years.

    It remains to be seen if the recent fare hike will help Prasarana get into the black but if it doesn’t, it would not be surprising if Prasarana asks SPAD for another price hike in the near future.

    One of the reasons why both public transportation companies in Singapore are profitable is that a far larger number of people take public transportation in Singapore compared to the Klang Valley. The MRT daily ridership in Singapore was almost 3 million in 2015 compared to slightly less than 500,000 for the LRT in the Klang Valley. But there is a far more important reason why Prasarana has been stacking up significant losses over the years and this has nothing to do with ridership numbers and all to do with the high financing costs to service its debt.

    2) Prasarana has very high financing costs because of its high debts

    At the end of Financial Year 2014, Prasarana was carrying a total debt of RM13.6 billion. As a result of this high debt burden, it was paying out finance costs totalling RM399 million in 2014. Its financing costs was 81% of its total revenue of RM490 million. In other words, 8 out of every 10 dollars which Prasarana was taking in was being used to service its debt. And this is not even taking into account operational costs such as paying salaries and electricity bills!

    In comparison, SMRT, which had revenues of SGD1.3b in 2015, was carrying debts totalling SGD821m in 2015. SBST, which had slightly lower revenues of SGD1.0b in 2015 was carrying debts totalling SGD338m. No wonder that their finance costs was 1% and 0.6% of revenue respectively! (See Chart 3 below)

    Chart 3: Revenue, Finance Costs, Borrowings and Finance Costs as % of Revenue (Prasarana, SMRT and SBST)

    Prasarana should not be directly blamed for its high debt levels. Some of it was accumulated as a result of having to ‘bail out’ the companies which built and operated the STAR and PUTRA LRT lines as well as the KL Monorail and also to buy buses from certain bus operators namely Intrakota, Cityliner and Putraline.

    But at the same time, Prasarana needs to take responsibility for taking on excess debt as a result of expensive public infrastructure projects. For example, 70% of the cost of the RM634m elevated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in Sunway, Subang Jaya, had to be borne by Prasarana. At RM117m per km, the 5.4km BRT must count as one of the more expensive BRT projects in the world on a km basis (approximately US$30m per km).[5]

    Moving ahead, it is hard to imagine the fare rise at the end of 2015 helping to increase Prasarana’s profitability because of the continued increase in its debt. As of April 2016, Prasarana’s debt has ballooned to more than RM20 billion which will definitely increase its finance costs.[7] So for those of you who are thinking that LRT or Rapid fares will remain where they are, you may want to think again!

    3) Prasarana has a relatively low non-fare revenue

    Operators of public transportation often have to depend on other sources of income in addition to the revenue collected from ticket sales. These income sources are known as non-fare revenue which would include revenue from advertising, rental of space at LRT stations and even property development at LRT stations. Currently, Prasarana’s non-fare revenue is less than 15% compared to 28% for SMRT in Singapore.[8]

    Prasarana faces certain challenges when it comes to increasing its non-fare revenue. Advertising at bus stops, on buses and at train stations are regular income earners for public transport operators around the world. In Malaysia, many advertisers are reluctant to advertise via these channels because of the perception that the middle class drive cars rather than take public transport. For example, most of the bus stops in the Klang Valley do not feature any advertisements, even in places where there is a high number of passengers. From my conversation with some industry sources, it seems that advertisers would rather spend their money on big billboards along major highways to capture the ‘eyeballs’ in cars rather than to advertise on buses or at bus stops. To overcome this challenge, Prasarana has to make it much more convenient for people to switch from their cars to public transportation which includes expanding its network of feeder buses, shortening waiting times for buses and making sure that taking the LRT during peak periods is not an unpleasant experience, to put it mildly.

    Prasarana, also has ambitious plans to increase property related income through its property development arm, Prasarana Integrated Development Sdn Bhd or PRIDE.[9] The target is to achieve as much as 50% of revenue via non fare sources by 2020.[10] The model of public transport operators going into property development to cover its operating and even some of its capital expenditure is Hong Kong’s MTR. Given Prasarana’s financial position, this is not necessarily a bad move but property development ventures should not distract Prasarana from its main goal as a public transport operator.

    4) SPAD has done a very poor job of fare regulation in Malaysia

    One of Prasarana’s reasons for why it was always making losses is because the LRT fares had not been revised for 15 years. This is prior to the fare hike which took place in December 2015. One of the reasons why the quantum of the fare hike was so high (by more than 100% on some routes) is because Prasarana did not know when SPAD would allow it to increase its fare again. So they decided to strike while the iron is hot and to maximise the fare increase.

    SPAD has done a very poor job in terms of fare regulation in Malaysia. There is little to no justification or explanation on how fares for various forms of public transportation are adjusted, usually upwards. It almost seems as if SPAD bases its decision on how much of a rise in taxi or train fares the public can withstand or ‘tahan’. And then, it will wait for some time before fares are adjusted again. This creates a vicious cycle whereby public transport operators will try to get the highest possible fare raise when SPAD allows for a fare adjustment.

    Singapore established a statutory body called the Public Transport Council (PTC) which has the power to regulate train and bus fares.[11] It works close with but is separate from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) which is the equivalent of SPAD in Singapore. Since 2013, the PTC conducts an annual fare review exercise to adjust the bus and train fares based on a publicly announced formula which includes inflation, changes in wages and the cost of energy.[12] Not only is this a more transparent way to determining the fare structure, in some cases, it can also result in the reduction of fares because of a drop in energy prices as was the case in December 2015.[13] The fare adjustments are usually in small amounts so that public transportation users are not unfairly ‘hit’ by a sudden hike in prices.

    The PTC also introduced progressive pricing policies such as distance pricing meaning that the cost of a journey is calculated based on distance regardless of whether you take a bus or train or both. This means that you won’t be charged extra if you change from a bus to a train or vice versa since it is part of a single journey you are taking, to work or to school, for instance.

    5) The Malaysian government does not want to directly fund public transportation infrastructure

    It is not feasible or realistic to expect public transport operators to cover the high costs of constructing a rapid transit train line. What usually happens is that the government will pay for the costs of construction while expecting the operator to cover at least its operation costs and perhaps make a small operating profit.

    Singapore has been moving to a model where the government funds the construction of the public transportation assets e.g. train tracks, rolling stock while a separate operator e.g. SMRT will run the services related to these assets. In a recent development under the New Rail Financing Framework (NRFF), the government will buy over all the operating assets of SMRT and then sign a long term contract with SMRT to run and operate the MRT services.[14] This means that the operator can fully focus on the running of the trains without having to worry about paying for new rolling stock or funding future train lines. The government benefits too because it can impose more stringent standards of efficiency and quality on the operator and fine the operator if these standards are not met.

    In Malaysia, at least for the LRT, the funding of the previous and upcoming lines comes directly from Prasarana including the proposed LRT 3 line. This means that the debt of Prasarana will continue to grow as mentioned above.

    One of the main reasons why the Malaysian government does not want to directly fund the construction costs of these public transportation projects is because of its budget position. Malaysia has been registering budget deficits since the 1998 Asian financial crisis (See chart 4 below). To assure foreign investors that government debts are manageable, the government has made a commitment to reduce its budget deficit to zero by 2020 and not to exceed a 55% government debt to GDP ratio. What this means is that the costs of financing public infrastructure projects have been shifted to government owned companies such as Prasarana. Prasarana’s debt is not registered officially as Malaysian government debt which means the government can continue to pretend that it is reducing the budget deficit. The cost of this ‘pretence’ is that companies such as Prasarana will be forced to resort to increasing the amount of revenue it can extract from the ‘rakyat’ via measures such as fare increases.

    The Singapore government is able to absorb the costs of public infrastructure directly because it has a record of running healthy budget surpluses with the exception 2009 and 2015 (see Chart 5 below). This is why the Land Transport Authority (LTA) was able to announce recently that it was buying the operating assets of SMRT at a price tag of SGD1.06 billion.[15]

     Chart 4: The Malaysian Government Budget Surplus / Deficit as % of GDP (1988 to 2015)

    Chart 5: The Singapore Government Budget Surplus / Deficit as % of GDP (1988 to 2015)

    This does not mean that public transportation is all well and good in Singapore. The MRT system experienced serious breakdowns in 2011 and smaller breakdowns subsequently which ultimately costs two Ministers of Transportation their jobs. But in terms of affordability, Singapore is in a far better position compared to Malaysia.

    What are the implications for public transportation users in Malaysia moving forward? Firstly, if there are no improvements in the manner in which the LRT and Rapid buses are financed and regulated, we should expect more increases in fare charges in the near future.

    Secondly, we need to examine the business relationship between MRT Co, the owner of the new Sungai Buloh-Kajang (SBK) MRT Line 1, and the operator of the line, which will be Prasarana, to see its impact on the profitability of Prasarana as well as of MRT Co. MRT is not directly bearing the costs of construction the SBK line. A separate special purpose vehicle (SPV) called Dana Infra has been issuing government backed bonds to pay for the construction costs. MRT recently signed a 10-year lease agreement with Rapid Rail, a Prasarana subsidiary, for it to run the operations of the first MRT line.[16] All the fares will go to Rapid Rail while MRT will receive revenue from advertising and rental. If Prasarana performs well, the MRT contract can help reduce its losses and perhaps reduce pressure to increase fares.

    We have a long way to go before we can achieve Singapore’s affordable public transport pricing. One the keys to getting there is knowing where we are at now.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] Data for Prasarana taken from its annual returns to the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM), data for SMRT and SBST taken from their annual reports which are available on their website.

    [2] RM6.10 is for a cash token. A cashless token costs RM5.30.

    [3] There is no point to convert from RM to SGD or vice versa because we want to know how much a Malaysian would pay to take public transportation in Malaysia versus how much a Singapore would pay to take public transportation in Singapore. Bear in mind also that Singapore’s GDP per capita is 5 times that of Malaysia’s.

    [4] Pre 2009 data was not available in the SBST website.

    [5] For a more thorough discussion of the Sunway BRT project, please refer to the following report by Penang Institute: http://penanginstitute.org/v3/research/penang-institute-in-kuala-lumpur/the-sunway-bus-rapid-transit-brt-line-lessons-for-the-future

    [7] http://www.ram.com.my/pressReleaseView.aspx?ID=347ff69a-f151-482d-b0a9-0ae287cf9f70

    [8] SMRT’s non fare revenue includes revenue from the rental of taxis.

    [9] http://www.myrapid.com.my/corporate/our-business/core-business/pride

    [10] http://themalaysianreserve.com/new/story/prasarana-move-boost-non-fare-revenue

    [11] http://www.ptc.gov.sg/about/overview.htm

    [12] https://www.ptc.gov.sg/regulation/annualFareReviewProcess.htm

    [13] http://www.ptc.gov.sg/FactsAndFigures/chronologyOfFareAdjustments.htm

    [14] http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/government-and-smrt-reach-agreement-on-new-rail-financing-framework

    [15] http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/government-and-smrt-reach-agreement-on-new-rail-financing-framework

    [16] http://www.thestar.com.my/business/business-news/2016/07/02/mrt-corp-rapid-rail-sign-mrt-handing-over-deal/

  • Public Transportation in the Klang Valley should be affordable, integrated, easy to use and reliable

    Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 14th of July, 2016

    Public Transportation in the Klang Valley should be affordable, integrated, easy to use and reliable

    On the 30th of June, 2016, Prime Minister Najib officiated the launch of the LRT extension for the Kelana Jaya and Ampang lines to the new Putra Heights interchange. About a year ago, Najib also officiated the opening of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service from Sunway-Setia Jaya to USJ 7. While the expansion of public transportation coverage in the Klang Valley is a much welcome move, the provision of public transportation is much more than just building new LRT stations and MRT lines. Specifically, public transportation should be affordable, integrated, easy to use and reliable.

    I decided to test out the new LRT extension and also other aspects of our public transportation system last Tuesday, the 5th of July, 2016, a day before Hari Raya. I drove my car to the new LRT station near Taman OUG called Awan Besar and took the LRT to the Putra Heights interchange. I changed trains and alighted at the USJ 7 station and took the BRT to Sunway-Setia Jaya. From there, I took the KTM train to KL Sentral. I then took the LRT to Masjid Jamek via the Kelana Jaya line and changed trains to the Ampang line to head back to the Awan Besar LRT station. How did my experience rate based on the four criteria outlined above?

    Firstly, our LRT fares are not exactly affordable. My LRT trip from Awan Besar to USJ7 cost RM5.20 for a cashless fare because I used my RapidKL card (a cash token would have cost RM6.10 for the same ride). The BRT ride from USJ7 to Sunway Setia cost me an additional RM5.40 which meant that the LRT plus BRT for a one-way trip cost me RM10.60! Of course, one may say that there are not that many people who would choose this route to get to Sunway-Setia Jaya but even if I were to alight at Sunway University / Sunway Monash (let’s say I was a student at one of the institutions), the BRT ride would cost me RM2.70 for a total of RM7.90 for a one-way trip from the Awan Besar LRT to the SunU-Monash BRT station.

    For argument’s sake, let’s say I wanted to take the train from Awan Besar to the end of the Kelana Jaya line which is Gombak. A one-way trip would cost me RM5.70 for a cashless trip (RM6.70 for a cash token). While this is still cheaper than driving and parking, it would be a burden for a minimum wage earner to spend RM11.40 per day or RM250 per month just on public transportation.

    To compare, we can look across the border to Singapore. The MRT is FREE on weekdays for travel before 7.45am in order to decrease congestion during the peak travel time which is between 8am and 9am. A trip from the first MRT station in the east – Pasir Ris (E1) – to the last MRT station in the west – Joo Koon (E29) – which covers a distance of 42.6km only costs SGD 2.03.

    Note: Singapore’s GDP per capita is more than five times Malaysia’s GDP per capita

    On the first criteria, affordability, Malaysia’s public transport system seems to fall short.

    Secondly, to what extent is our public transportation integrated? On this front, I think some improvements have been made in the Klang Valley. The integration of the KTM, LRT, ERL and some bus routes has transformed KL Sentral into a public transportation hub which is used by many thousands every day. The Sunway BRT system connects the KTM to the LRT (albeit at a high cost to the user). The Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT Line 1 will increase connectivity and public transport integration when it is operational next year. One major gap to be filled is the insufficient feeder bus routes from various neighbourhoods to the LRT and KTM stations.

    But public transportation integration is more than just physical integration. It should also incorporate fare integration. This means that whether one is taking a Rapid KL bus, the LRT or KTM, a journey from the start to the end destination should cost the same regardless of how many times one changes from one form of public transportation to another. Right now, if we take a bus to the LRT station followed by an LRT train followed by a BRT bus, we will be charged three fares for a single journey. An integrated public transportation system will charge us one single fare for that journey. This will increase the affordability of our public transportation system significantly.

    For example, in March this year, I took a bus from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore to the Boon Lay MRT station (in the west) and from there I took an MRT to the Changi Airport (in the east). The fare was SGD 2.03 – 0.88 cents for the bus ride and 1.15 for the MRT ride. It was counted as one journey and one fare even though I took a bus and an MRT. This fare integration makes public transportation in Singapore even more affordable. In Malaysia, fare integration is a concept that is unfamiliar to almost all public transportation users.

    One of the reasons why fare integration remains a challenge in Malaysia is the inability of KTM to ‘sync’ its ticketing system with the LRT / Monorail. While one can use the ‘Touch and Go’ card to pay the KTM fare, it is not possible to use the RapidKL card to pay the KTM fare. In addition, the KTM commuter’s own automatic ticketing system is still not functioning. At the Setia Jaya KTM station, for example, one automatic ticketing machine was not working and another was still undergoing testing. And there was no one on duty at the manual ticketing counter! (See below)

    It looks like we have a long way to go before we can see fare integration even though KTM promised last November that a single ticketing system that is integrated with the LRT and Monorail will be introduced in June this year.[1]

    Thirdly, is our public transportation system easy to use?

    For the new stations on the Kelana Jaya and Ampang extensions, the station indicators on the trains were not working properly when I used them last Tuesday. This means that commuters would not be able to easily keep track of the upcoming LRT stations so that they know which station to alight at. At the same time, there were no announcements on the PA system on the upcoming stations.

    In addition, when I took the LRT from Masjid Jamek to Awan Besar, there were no announcements notifying commuters that we had to change trains at Sri Petaling to get to Awan Besar. On the LRT maps, the line from Sri Petaling to Awan Besar is supposed to be seamless and does not seem to require commuters to change trains. I was only made aware of this when my train stopped at Sri Petaling and then went back to the Bukit Jalil station without going on to Awan Besar.

    Much more needs to be done in order to improve the signage and the announcements in the LRT stations. (I’ll save the lack of bus route maps for Rapid KL buses for another time)

    Fourthly and finally, is our public transportation system reliable? Again, I’ll put aside the question of the reliability of feeder buses for now since I did not take any feeder buses last Tuesday. While the LRT trains were quite regular (waiting time less than 10 minutes for all the stops I was at), the same cannot be said of the KTM. Because I just missed the train at the Setia Jaya KTM station, I had to wait 45 minutes for the next train. One of the reasons for the low frequency of the KTM trains, especially during off peak hours, is because of ongoing double tracking work, but I understand that even during peak hours, trains along the Tanjung Malim and Sentul stretch only arrived once every 45 minutes.

    An unreliable public transportation system in terms of regularity and timing will discourage many users from switching from private vehicles to public transport. It will also cause much discomfort and increase commuting times for those who don’t have a choice but to use public transportation.

    I’d encourage our politicians, especially our Ministers, to test out our public transportation system by themselves, without an entourage, including getting their own tickets and planning their own routes so that they can see for themselves the problems which commuters face on a daily basis in terms of the affordability, integration, ease of use and reliability of the public transportation system in the Klang Valley.

    Dr. Ong Kian Ming
    Member of Parliament for Serdang

    [1] http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/new-fare-system-to-integrate-ktm-lrt-mrt-monorail

    [2] http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2015/06/01/najib-brt-sunway-electric-bus-service/

    [3] Assuming there are 22 working days in a month.

    [4] https://www.mytransport.sg/content/mytransport/home/commuting/trainservices.html

    [5] http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/new-fare-system-to-integrate-ktm-lrt-mrt-monorail

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