Public transport put to the test

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KUALA LUMPUR: Every day, Nazirul Akhmar endures a 90-minute journey covering a distance of some 31km to get to his workplace at KL Sentral from Rawang, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

He waits as early as 6.30am for a train from the Rawang KTM Komuter station, and if there is a delay, wastes between 30 minutes and an hour before a train comes or scrambles to find another means of transport.

The 23-year-old can’t afford a car so public transport is Nazirul’s only choice. If he had a car, the journey would probably take 30 to 40 minutes.

Many other Malaysians face similar woes using public transport on a daily basis to get to work — a problem the government understands and is addressing. But decades of poor planning and ease of car ownership have made improving public transport challenging. The challenges include ensuring that different transport systems are integrated and extended to outlying areas.

The Transport Ministry appears to measure success in improving the Klang Valley’s public transport system by the number of commuters, aiming for 750,000 next year.

In 2010, there were 238,313 people commuting daily on urban public transport systems, and 411,000 in October 2012. The increase was attributed to efforts under the National Key Result Areas on urban public transport, which is part of the Government Transformation Programme.

Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd has also noted the increase in public transport commuters, more so in the Klang Valley.

Senior manager of communications and media affairs Azhar Ghazali said daily ridership on RapidKL buses is about 300,000, followed by the LRT Kelana Jaya line (230,000)  and the LRT Ampang line (180,000).

But punctuality and frequency of service are still major frustrations — Nazirul calls it “a game of luck”.

“Whenever there is a delay, we wait for another 20 minutes, sometimes maybe one hour. That is why I wait here so early in the morning. You know, my job actually starts at 10am,” he said.

Nazirul said improvements are urgently needed because more people are using public transport as more among the working class believe they can save money that way.

“RM10 a day to me is quite a lot. If you compare it with those who ride motorcycles, commuting is better. Not only is it safe, you can also save some cash. Nowadays, it is not as cheap as before to ride a motorcycle,” he said.

He said public transport users tend to be mostly from the lower- and middle-income groups.

“It is not so much because they hate the congestion but it is more about saving money wherever they can,” said Nazirul.

Maizathul Akmal, 26, also has complaints about delays in the bus service in Taman Melati, where she lives.

“There are just too many weaknesses. It is like they are operating without a proper system. The bus drivers, too, sometimes do not follow the daily schedule and routes. Most of the time, they are late and do not use the designated routes,” she said.

Maizathul said an urgent solution is needed to ensure that services provided are more efficient and reliable.

“The government must understand that more and more people are using public transport now,” she said.

Prasarana’s Azhar said RapidKL is working on various measures to resolve some of these issues, including hiring more drivers. “We have a shortage of about 500 drivers and this has affected our operations.”

Infrastructure is also being improved for monorail and LRT services in the city, he said.

Another public transport user, Silvia, 33, said the LRT service has improved over time and that it is still much faster and easier than using a car. But there is room for a lot more improvement, she said, in tandem with the growing number of public transport users.

“Nowadays, it can get too crowded during peak hours. The recent fuel price hike has forced many people to consider public transport,” she said. — The Malaysian Insider


This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 24, 2014.