Redefining public transportation

‘We are talking about a never-ending system which is always progressing because we need to keep up with the times’

By P PREM KUMAR & MARK RAO / Pic By ISMAIL CHE RUS & MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

Economic growth brings prosperity, wealth, job opportunities and higher income for the population.

Fixation of such growth is creating new “tigers” in the world.

Such fast economic rise and wealth creation are shaping new problems for many developing nations, especially in Asia.

Rising income has enlarged the middle-income earners. These are the consumers with the largest purchasing power. They spend on clothing and jewellery to vacations and telecommunication devices.

The sudden explosion of the middle-income earners has also brought a new headache to many governments in Asia.

Overwhelming traffic challenges exist in major cities. Cities like Shanghai, Jakarta, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are facing an uphill task to confront the rising number of vehicles.

Malaysia has been recording new vehicle sales of around 600,000 units yearly. It is estimated that used cars dealers sell another 400,000 units annually.

That will put a staggering number of one million vehicles sold a year. At the end of 2016, there were about 27.61 million registered vehicles in the country.

For road users, and especially for city dwellers, the worsening traffic is becoming a norm that they wish would disappear.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, and the Klang Valley have an over seven million population. Likewise, they require their own transportation.

The challenge now is how to approach this ever worsening nightmare.

When the now-rebranded Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) was established in 2009, it took on the challenge to address the disconnected public transportation system and traffic conditions in Malaysia.

Reporting directly to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak, Pemandu had proposed substantial injection of funds to improve public transportation in the country, including adding rail, bus and train initiatives.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri (picture) — who is in charge of the Land Public Transport Commission’s (SPAD) operations — said Malaysia has taken a progressive approach to confront the problem.

Nancy, who is a two-term federal lawmaker from Sarawak, spoke to The Malaysian Reserve on how the government is seeking ways to alleviate the problem.

“We are talking about a neverending system which is always progressing because we need to keep up with the times,” she said, referring to the country’s public transportation system.

She said the sector’s journey in fulfilling the needs of Malaysians will be a journey without end as “people’s aspirations change all the time”.

The end goal is to facilitate seamless travel to and from trains, railways, buses and hailing services, positioning public transportation as the first choice for Malaysians.

This will involve the creation of an integrated network between major hubs, bringing new projects online and ensuring that last-mile connectivity needs are met.

Underlying this ambitious goal is a more realistic desire of having 40% of the population to use public transport by 2030.

Integrated Payment System
Success of other major cities like New York or London in public transportation transcends beyond the infrastructure.

Having a concerted payment system has contributed to the seamless connectivity. Malaysia is embarking on a similar route.

From June 2019 onwards, Malaysia’s urban rail and bus lines will utilise a universal system to integrate processes and record passenger movement.

This is part of the Integrated Common Payment System (ICPS) which will enable seamless travel for commuters between various modes of public transportation.

“At the moment, we have integrated those (public transports) operated by Prasarana Malaysia Bhd, except the buses,” Nancy said.

“Our target is by June 2019, but we are trying to achieve this before the deadline.”

Once completed, ICPS will allow for multiple options for e-payment, including common prepaid cards, bankcards, debit cards, and mobile applications such as Apple Pay and Android Pay.

Malaysians are currently using one single payment card — the Touch ‘n Go platform — to pay for public transport services.

Managed by SPAD, the ICPS will further monitor and record passenger movements from various public transportation modes as one journey — as opposed to separate trips.

Nancy acknowledged that the immense integration of back-end processors will first need to be satisfied in order to achieve the government’s aim for seamless cashless public transportation services.

What’s Next for BRT?

When the bus rapid transit (BRT) was launched in the busy metropolitans of Subang and Bandar Sunway back in 2015, the dedicated and elevated bus route stretching 5.4km was perceived as a novel way to address the daily traffic woes.

Future BRT routes will only cover underserved areas, Nancy says

Other planned BRT projects have not achieved similar successes with the Kuala Lumpur-Klang BRT scrapped in November last year.

Nancy said this was to avoid the “redundancy” of public transport networks in any given area.

“We do not shelve our BRT plans unnecessarily, but we look at the overall plan and which are the areas covered by the rail networks,” she said.

“If the BRT covers an area that is already serviced by another mode of public transport, then we might as well take that plan away.”

She said future BRT routes will only cover underserved areas, but noted that the current demand is favouring stage bus services schemes.

The Stage Bus Scheme Transformation (SBST) project is an important mode of transport for commuters residing outside Greater Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley, and is currently serving the Kangar, Ipoh and Seremban areas.

Future launches are also slated for Terengganu, Sarawak and Johor, and could be realised as early as the next three months.

“The natures of some cities are such where they cannot take up the BRT yet, so the SBST will be more useful there,” Nancy said.

Last Mile Connectivity
It was a remarkable 2017 for the government, and Nancy, personally. She led the legalisation of e-hailing services in the country, which is the first in the region to do so.

Despite brutal brickbats due to the government’s acceptance of e-hailing services, Nancy stressed the importance for Malaysia and the public transportation system to keep up with global developments.

Malaysia recognised the importance of e-hailing services to provide last mile connectivity for the public.

By passing the amendments to preexisting laws, this could be achieved.

These regulations could be gazetted as early as this month and will see some 180,000 ridesharing drivers being brought under the jurisdiction of SPAD and the Road Transport Department, alongside other relevant authorities.

However, where and how the traditional taxi operators fit into this new equation is less than certain.

Traditional cabs continue to moan about lost earnings due to the emergence of e-hailing services.

It was reported that as many as 1,208 individual taxi licences were surrendered last year, of which 564 eligible taxi drivers were granted a RM5,000 government subsidy to purchase a new vehicle.

Nancy said cabbies will need to adapt to the new business model and look at e-hailing operators as “partners”, rather than as a threat to their income.

“When taxi drivers adapt to the new business model, and perhaps with some training from ridesharing

Traditional cabs continue to moan about lost earnings due to the emergence of e-hailing services

companies like Uber Technologies Inc or Grab Malaysia, this can be the new branding exercise for them,” she said.

“I’ve been encouraging Uber and Grab to bring them onto their platforms, so that they can perhaps introduce a new image or rebrand themselves.”

She added that this could create a mutually beneficial scenario for both parties as taxi drivers are the “most loyal transport providers” in the hailing game — thus serving to supplement the make-up of ridesharing drivers today, of which 80% are considered part-time.

In order to survive, the taxi industry has to keep up with trends, Nancy said. She has charted a few routes and miles of tracks, but the journey is far from finding the final station.