On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Tracking the transport system

On The Beat 


 IT was slightly over 10.30am when the Prime Minister reached his single-storey colonial style house in Jalan Bellamy, behind Istana Negara, after spending the morning taking the KTM Komuter and LRT rides on Thursday.

He had decided to see for himself how commuters jostled to get onto trains and the delays they had to put up with during the morning rush hour.

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi arrived at the Serdang Komuter KTM station at 8.15am but could not board the first train that arrived because it was packed. He got on the next train that came 15 minutes later and headed for KL Sentral.

There was another wait for a while before he switched to the Kelana Jaya LRT Line to get to Masjid Jamek station because, again, the first train to arrive was full.

On both trains, he stood among the passengers, some of whom offered seats to him but he politely declined. A few asked to pose for photographs with him.

Except for Bernama, the national news agency, which was asked to record the ride, none of the media was informed of Pak Lah’s plan. He did not want people to think that it was a publicity stunt. Still, the media organisations soon got wind of it.

“The commuters brought up their complaints, left and right,” he said, smiling and gesturing at his ears as he narrated his experience. The Prime Minister was then told he should try riding the trains in the evening, when the public was leaving for home.

“It was something that I had wanted to do for some time. I have been getting complaints that all is not well at LRT and KTM stations. I am fully aware and I want to improve the situation,” he said.

The LRT or light rail transit has been an important transport link for the Klang Valley since 1998. The city’s rail-based system comprises two LRT lines, one monorail, a commuter rail system with four lines, and a high-speed commuter train service, which shares the lines with the airport rail link known as KLIA Ekspres.

Pak Lah’s verdict after the rides: he was not happy with the train system and said it had to be fixed. He said existing services were not systematic and did not link up properly, there were not enough coaches, and coverage was not comprehensive enough.

While the Government had to shoulder the responsibility of improving the services, Pak Lah also felt that Malaysians needed to be more civic conscious, pointing out that they did not queue up and commuters pushed their way into coaches.

The train ride is believed to be a personal experience that Pak Lah wanted as he put the final touches on the setting up of a Commission of Land Transportation, which would recommend and formulate ways to improve land transportation, including public buses.

A comprehensive network of efficient public bus systems in major towns, especially in the Klang Valley, is vital and the proposed commission, which would be allocated a substantial amount of funds, is expected to be announced during the Budget speech on Aug 29.

Unlike in other cities, only 16% of people in the Klang Valley use public transport regularly, citing the poor quality of bus and train link-up as one reason. But it has also been found that 80% of road users in Kuala Lumpur do not originate from the city, hence most prefer to drive their own cars.

But Pak Lah has to review the current regulating structure for the public transport system, as there is no single authority at present.

The Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB), which issues permits for buses and taxis, comes under the Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Ministry while the KTM Komuter is under the Transport Ministry although it does not directly control the LRT.

City Hall and other relevant municipal authorities are in charge of the location of bus stops and bus lanes.

Pak Lah may also want to fast-track plans to extend the LRT network, including the new 40km line from Cheras to Kota Damansara, which is expected to be ready by 2012. However, until now, construction has not even started and any delay would affect plans for a more effective rail system in the city.

The 7.2km KTM Komuter extension from Sentul to Batu Caves, with new four stations, will also help ease congestion and it is expected to be ready by next year.

Everyone knows the public transport system in KL, Penang and Johor Baru badly needs to be improved and certainly a lot has been done, especially in the Klang Valley.

But it will never be enough.

The people of KL hope that an immediate improvement of the public transport system in Klang Valley must be one of Pak Lah’s main priorities over the next two years.