Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Rail-volution: Move over private transportation

The next day after his appointment as Transport Minister, viral on social media are photos of Anthony Loke unassumingly riding the public train. He has since been seen riding and inspecting the rail facilities on few more occasions. 

His regularity invited nasty social media comments calling a political show. Putting aside the snide remarks, Loke is sending the message that his main concern is public transportation specifically the Klang Valley. 

Had they known that Prasarana operation lost RM13 billion and building the MRT3 will cost up to RM80 billion, the commentators would have been more judicious. 

Scary as it maybe, the Klang Valley population is about RM8 million (2020), which is 24.5% of Malaysia's 32.7 million (2021) population. 

To understand the Greater Klang Valley, one need to look beyond Sepang, Rawang, Putrajaya and nearby areas to include as far away as Bentong, Seremban and Ipoh. 

There are Malaysians commuting to and from KL daily from Melaka and Kuala Pilah. Every festival the highway is jam packed, accident frequent, and travelling is at snail pace that driving makes no more sense. 

Kuala Lumpur and Klang Valley need to be connected to these areas by rail. It cannot continue to rely on private transportation. 

There are competition for space to expand private transportation infrastructure. There is a social trend away from driving to avoid the hustle of getting parking space. A matter of time the role of public transportation will be more pressing. 

This FMT article below is a reflection of the state of the public rail transport which those nasty commentators failed to realise:      

Revamp Prasarana and start a ‘railvolution’

FMT / Rosli Khan - January 15, 2023 9:15 AM

Giving away RM2.8 billion of additional funds to Prasarana, sounded like a rush job.

On what basis were these funds given? Where is the new business plan? Or ‘Rail-volution’ plan?

Prasarana, 100 % owned by the Minister of Finance Incorporated is a losing concern but continues to be funded by the public purse.

Prasana is the parent company of RapidRail, which operates LRT and MRT services and RapidBus.

It has a few other subsidiary companies including RapidFerry Penang, (whose services has since been terminated) and Prasarana Integrated Development (Pride), which dabbled into property and has been in a controversial mode.

Property development was not the objective when Prasarana was first conceived and set up.

Systemic failure

In the grand scheme of public transport provision and services, Prasarana is large but deemed as a poorly managed outfit.

Success has been rather limited and the ratio of spending billions against ridership volume leaves much to be desired.

The company and its many subsidiaries have been heavily in (government) debt, is surprisingly reticent on its project expenditure and continues to operate outside the ambit of parliamentary budget allocations.

This means their operating budget and development expenditure are not presented in parliament, thus not subjected to the usual parliamentary audit, check and balance.

The last audited report shows Prasarana in the red to the tune of RM13 billion, with RapidRail’s annual loss at RM132 million.

The same report also mentioned the poor state of facilities whereby 32% and 34% of their lifts and escalators respectively, were not in working order.

The operational and technical issues behind LRT services are long-standing problems.

Thus, the sudden injection of RM2.8 billion, devoid of any specific details on areas of improvement and without delving deeper into the technicalities such as how to resolve the train operating systems, will unlikely bring any long term solutions.

As I have said before, the current chairman and the board must take responsibility for its failure and be accountable by resigning en bloc.

Too many boards

The finance ministry, as the owner, must revamp this multi-layered, top heavy organisation by trimming the need for multilevel boards and management staff.

There is a board and CEO at Prasarana, another layer of board and CEO at RapidRail and yet there is another board and CEO at RapidBus and Pride.

Such a complex structure is not only superfluous, unnecessary and expensive but rather typical of a government bureaucratic set up, devoid of functionality, responsibility and accountability.

A public services organisation must open up its books, be willing to be scrutinised and make every ringgit count.

MoF must be serious about promoting public transport and look for qualified and competent people to replace the current board and the management staff.

One would imagine that after 24 years of service, we ought to have a pool of highly competent technical people helming this outfit, who can provide sound advice to the government and not the other way round.

It is also expected that with their years of experience, they would understand most of the operational and technical issues related to running mass transit of this nature, against the growth of private car users.

Rail based mass transit systems demand a high degree of reliability and punctuality, two factors that cannot be matched by congested urban roads.

Unfortunately, our planning for a comprehensive mass transit system for Klang Valley has been littered with leakages, fragmented by different ministries, organisations and interest groups.

They are hardly integrated resulting in users having difficulty accessing the stations and services.

Stations for LRT, MRT and KTMB commuter lines have been built as stand alone units, limiting their ability for interchanges and cross-over rides for passengers.

This thoughtless planning has resulted in limited catchment areas and uncoordinated passenger flows.

The overall network could not be optimised and lacked seamless travel opportunities for potential passengers.

New ‘rail-volution’

A rail based mass rapid transit system is characterised by a rigid route network; stations and interchanges are shared at the same site or location.

To enlarge a particular catchment area, every station needs efficient ground connectivity and supporting systems for the first and last mile journeys.

The current approach using large feeder buses is rather superficial, and reflects poorly on passenger demand assessment. It has been far from being effective and not in line with the park and ride concept so successful elsewhere.

Small buses can play a more effective role than long big buses which cannot manoeuvre effectively in many residential areas with narrow roads.

Our efforts to reduce the number of cars on our roads and manage road congestion have failed due to this inefficient and cumbersome first and last mile connectivity issues.

I have suggested school minibuses to be given the chance to play this role, as the majority of them are idle and underutilised during school hours.

They only operate during early morning and again in the afternoon and evening for the afternoon session schools.

Most of the time, these buses are available but current regulations prohibit them from offering any services to the public.

The transport ministry (via the public land transport agency or Apad) should look into this possibility and to also ensure that the service providers (RapidRail and feeder operators) are doing the right thing.

Their focus should be on how to optimise ridership and change the behavioural aspect of passenger travel demand – from private cars to rail.

This is the ‘railvolution’ concept that needs clear understanding, strategy and support.

To strengthen this ‘railvolution’ strategy, perhaps it is about time for the transport industry to consider and introduce a ‘congestion charge’ policy for car users entering the city.

In fact, revenue from such a policy could and should be channelled to fund improvements in public transport services, similar to what has been done successfully in London.


There are many more ideas that could be brought in to improve the existing system. Nevertheless, the existing network of public transport need to be expanded and frequency increase. 

Unless the ridership improve and the system is financially sustainable, project such MRT3 will be a blow on the government's already strained fiscal position. 

At current usage, it will be a burden to the future generation of Malaysians. Government has to have the political will and even take more draconian measures to ensure public transportion is workable and sustainable. 

Public transportation should have been taken into account in any of government's development plan from the on-set of the 5-Year Malaysia Plans. 

Unfortunately, a former Prime Minister was  overzealous to copy and paste the American industrial development model based on car industry, but Malaysia has a small population base to support. 

The car industry namely led by Proton was sustained by copying post-World War II America to build more highways and later privatising it. Complimenting the automobile industry and listed privatised highway company is the cheap subsidised oil from Petronas. 

The economic model, which supported the then corruption laden political structure of Mahathir, wasted hundreds of billions from both government and public pocket into unproductive consumerism. 

It was his indicator-targeting initiatives to superficially potray himself as successful in increasing Malay wealth. However, it came with higher household debt, lack of savings, wasteful subsidies, and unsupported by productivity. 

When Anwar and DAP repeatedly promised to bring oil prices down and abolish toll immediately, it is difficult to deliver but the strain on voters budget made them willing to try it out. 

It is a tall order and he need to bring in investors. Expanding public transportation could improve economic efficiency and improve productivity. 

Najib got into his current legal mess for trying to hold toll prices from going up and cutting energy cost down. The challenges ahead for Anwar will be political retribution  of the "Empire strikes back". 

He will need to put together a masterplan or not delay further any plan put together. Just bring in the funder or investors. 

The launch of the public relation exercise to educate and get public support is to charge in court the former Prasarana Chairman for abuse his power and corruption.

No comments:

My Say