OVER the past two decades, significant strides have been made in the field of development. However, the goal of establishing an efficient and fully integrated public transport network has yet to be achieved.
In spite of the introduction of new MRT and LRT lines, Malaysia’s most urbanised agglomerate, the Klang Valley, appears disjointed and plagued by low ridership.
A significant factor contributing to the underutilisation of public transport is the prevalence of affordable cars and motorcycles, which offer travellers convenience and flexibility. Furthermore, low fuel prices compound this problem.
All of these factors contribute to the traffic congestion and environmental pollution plaguing urban areas. The protests against projects, such as the PJD (Petaling Jaya Dispersal) Link Expressway (formerly Kinrara–Damansara Expressway or Kidex) and Dash (Damansara–Shah Alam Elevated Expressway), reflect the increasing awareness among locals of the drawbacks of sprawling highways that bring smog and mar the once lush verdant valley.
While many factors contribute to the underutilisation of public transport, a pressing issue is integration.
Despite the introduction of various public transport options in the Klang Valley, such as the KTM Commuter, MRT and LRT lines, travellers still face difficulties in accessing stations and seamlessly connecting to other modes of transport.
Stations frequently lack effective integration in the wider urban design, rendering them as isolated islands in low-density areas.
In extreme cases, such as the Cyberjaya City Centre MRT station on the Putrajaya Line, they appear to be situated in remote and incongruous locations.
The primary reason is the absence of a hub-and-spoke design that facilitates:
Seamless interchange between the commuter rail and light rail systems, with punctual bus services featuring short service intervals and adequate capacity to meet demand, and;
Optimisation of walkable radius to high density commercial, retail and industrial buildings that are close to MRT/LRT/KTM stations.
Case in point one:
Consider the daily commute of a worker travelling from Sungai Buloh to Damansara Jaya.
In this scenario, the journey entails taking a bus to Sungai Buloh MRT station, then transferring to another bus at Bandar Utama station to finally reach the workplace.
However, as many Malaysians reliant on public transport are aware, the problem often arises not from the MRT but with the connecting bus service, which can negatively impact the entire commuting experience.
It is frustrating when buses are consistently late or, on occasiona, fail to arrive altogether. Moreover, bus drivers frequently take breaks without adhering to the published timetable, further worsening the issue of reliability.
Routes with overwhelming demand may lead to a situation where not all commuters can board, making it a challenge for workers to reach their workplaces on time.
Even those fortunate enough to have bus stops within walking distance of their destinations may encounter poorly designed pedestrian pathways. This lack of reliability erodes the average commuter’s confidence in, and subsequent reliance on, public transport for their daily commute, let alone for more leisurely purposes.
Furthermore, this situation contributes to the perception that cars are a necessity, even for individuals with financial constraints, resulting in many young Malaysians taking on burdensome car loans.
Suggestion: A crucial measure is the revitalisation and comprehensive overhaul of the bus network, which is critical in connecting the MRT stations to the surrounding areas, and providing feeder services for commuters.
The expansion of the bus network should be an ongoing endeavour to cover more rural and suburban areas, where public transport options are limited or irregular. This has been partly done.
However, to further improve the system, the government should allocate resources towards enhancing the quality, reliability and frequency of existing services. This includes substantial investments in infrastructure upgrades, equipment and vehicle modernisation, increasing bus fleet and professionalising staff.
Ensure universal, consistent and real-time information is accessible through Application Programming Interfaces that can be seamlessly integrated into popular applications, such as Google Maps or Moovit, to provide a smoother travel experience.
In addition to infrastructure improvements, there is a need to revisit the contracting model. Promoting healthy competition by opening the playing field to enable Prasarana to compete with domestic and internationally partnered consortiums will elevate service standards and cost efficiencies.
Additionally, this approach will allow the country to tap into the valuable expertise of international transport operators.
Simultaneously, it is worth considering a streamlining of the existing framework of stage bus operators. Many of these operators manage convoluted routes with inconsistent reliability, and grapple with profitability challenges.
Drawing inspiration from Singapore’s Bus Contracting Model (BCM), the relevant authorities can explore the idea of centralising the procurement and maintenance of bus assets under the purview of the Land Public Transport Agency.
This approach will enable operators to focus on competition based on their ability to operate bus routes at service standards set by the agency.
In the long run, adopting a BCM-inspired approach will enable the efficient use of government funds.
This shift will allow funds to be directed primarily toward the acquisition and maintenance of bus assets, and if extended to the KTM/MRT/LRT lines, the rolling stock, rather than being spread thinly to include covering the cost of operational elements.
All this will ultimately benefit commuters and bolster the public transport system.
Case in point two:
For the second scenario, I will refrain from discussing the Cyberjaya City Centre MRT station as I remain hopeful that prudent urban redevelopment around this relatively new station will eventually lead to its optimal usage.
Instead, I will illustrate the point using the Kampung Selamat MRT station. This station was inaugurated seven years ago as part of the Kajang Line but has since been integrated into the Putrajaya Line.
Since then, two commendable mixed-use developments have sprung up adjacent to the station. These are Sqwhere, offering serviced apartments and versatile retail office spaces, and D’Sara Sentral, which combines residential and commercial properties with SOVO (Small office, Virtual office) lots. Both enjoy seamless connectivity to the station via a convenient link bridge, ensuring ease of access for residents and commuters.
However, despite these promising developments, the connectivity and overall viability of the surrounding area leave much to be desired.
Beyond Sqwhere and D’Sara Sentral, we encounter a perplexing mix of light industry and new villages, which contribute to peak-hour congestion and a web of industrial and private vehicle traffic that snakes in and out of the sprawl.
On the opposite side of the MRT station lies Kampung Selamat proper, characterised by its low-density single or double-story private homes.
Recent land clearing activities near the Sungai Buloh Forest Reserve indicate the potential introduction of standardised terrace housing to the area, a pattern that is increasingly dominating much of Klang Valley’s suburban landscape.
Suggestion: I am not advocating for the displacement of residents and tenants in such areas. Instead, the state and/or federal governments should explore avenues to re-evaluate land usage and promote the development of areas similar to Sqwhere and D’Sara Sentral, spanning residential, commercial and even industrial facets, to prosper in close proximity to each MRT/LRT/KTM station.
For example, Damansara Perdana already showcases high-density living, but it lacks clear public transport integration.
The question arises: Why can’t we replicate such development within the vicinity of transportation nodes?
Naturally, heightened density should be accompanied by comprehensive pedestrianisation initiatives to ensure that reaching the station does not turn into a perilous journey in an urban environment.
Malaysia’s demand for more conventional suburban developments can still be satisfied by extending outwards from the high-density hub around the station, all seamlessly connected through arterial bus networks.
This holistic approach will widen the catchment area for existing public transport and also provide convenience to residents.
They can fulfil most of their needs, desires and employment purposes within the nearest hub or along the connected spokes, without the hassle of dealing with traffic on Jalan Loke Yew or the arduous quest for parking at Mid Valley Megamall on a busy Saturday evening.
Additionally, this transformation will benefit local businesses by capitalising on the increased localisation of foot traffic, ultimately fostering economic growth and urban vibrancy.
The government’s decision to invest in rail and light rail infrastructure in the Klang Valley is commendable.
What remains is to ensure that this same infrastructure is able to improve the lives of as many people as possible.
Thus, it is imperative that the government redouble its efforts to attract more people to use public transport, especially given that the Klang Valley accounts for some 25% of the country’s population.
As Malaysia debates the introduction of incentives for electric vehicle adoption, as proposed by Minister of International Trade and Industry Tengku Zafrul Aziz, the need to enhance public transport to address environmental concerns is pivotal.
Such measures will alleviate congestion and improve overall liveability in urban areas.
Public transport should be viewed not only as a means of mobility but also as a catalyst for social and economic development.
Enhancements in the urban planning of Klang Valley can provide a template for the country’s other urban centres to follow.
This collective effort to enhance the public transport system can lead Malaysia towards its vision of becoming a high-income and sustainable nation while significantly elevating the quality of life for its citizens.