Malaysians warm up to public transport — slowly, but surely

The number of people that are switching to train services in the country is increasing steadily


When it comes to taking the public transport, Malaysians are catching up with the rest of the world. Slowly, but surely. While populations in various developed countries had long ditched their cars as well as personal vehicles and opt for public transport, particularly rail and train services, Malaysians are beginning to move towards the same direction.

While many still find it hard to let go of the notion that one could survive the daily grind without owning a car (or a smart phone), the number of people that are switching to train services in the country is increasing steadily.

As revealed by the 2017 Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) report card, while train services are becoming more popular, people can expect more from the rail system throughout the country within 10 years.

Currently, across the state, there are up to 1,601km of railway tracks and some 27% of the distance is zigzagging within the Klang Valley.

By 2026, it is estimated that the rail development would cover up to 2,766km across the states in Peninsular Malaysia with a total of up to 421 railway stations.

If a comparison were to be made between the railway routes and the major highways all over the country, the distance covered by the North- South Expressway and the East Coast Expressway is 1,490km. Now, that’s nearly half of the total distance of the railway tracks.

SPAD’s report card also stated that all of the rail projects in the pipeline are expected to be completed as scheduled.

For example, the 700km East Coast Rail Link which began construction last year, will cater to both passengers and the industry needs from Port Klang, Selangor, to Kuantan, Pahang, and Pengkalan Kubor in Kelantan.

The project is owned and will be operated by Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (MRL), an entity under the purview of the Ministry of Finance.

Another intercity link in the pipeline is the Kuala Lumpur (KL)- Singapore high-speed rail, which would connect KL city centre, six towns in four states before ending at Jurong East, Singapore. The entire project is expected to be completed by 2026.

Public Transport

The KTM ETS and other intercity trains have recorded 14.2% increase of average daily ridership (Pic by Muhd Amin Naharul/TMR)

Currently, the intercity rail services — KTM electric train service (ETS) (from KL Sentral to Arau in Perlis) and other intercity trains have recorded a 14.2% increase of average daily ridership.

Last year alone, both services catered up to 7.2 million passengers, or 19,835 average daily ridership. KTM ETS has been performing well in 2017, with a 16.7% ridership increase to 11,363 passengers compared to only 9,740 passengers in 2016, while KTM Intercity recorded an 11.1% growth of ridership in the same period.

The success has spurred the government’s interest to spend around RM1.1 billion to boost ETS assets to 10 trains this year, and another nine by 2019.

The fast-growing rail services have also pushed the need for ancillary services including buses, taxi and the ever popular ride-hailing business in Greater KL.

Last year, average daily ridership of rail and bus in the Klang Valley increased by 3.7% to 1.21 million compared to 1.16 million in the previous year.

Of the total, 57.5%, or 694,057 ridership, was contributed by rail commuters — which the segment has also recorded an increase of 7.5% compared to 645,601 commuters in 2016.

SPAD CEO Mohd Azharuddin Mat Sah said the rise in the urban rail ridership can be attributed to the full opening of the first phase of the Mass Rapid Transit Line 1 (MRT1) project that links Sungai Buloh and Kajang (SBK) — a 52km line that was opened in July 2017.

The extension of the Light Rail Transit Kelana Jaya line in Petaling Jaya to Putra Heights in Subang has also contributed to the growth — a 7% increase from 254,854 in 2016 to 272,684 average daily ridership last year.

To improve the railways’ efficiency, few projects which connect the existing transportation hubs had been initiated and are expected to meet the deadline.

This year, an additional 8.14km line that is connecting the Subang Jaya KTM station to Subang Skypark (airport terminal) is slated for completion by May 1, 2018.

The train will cater to airline passengers travelling to and from Subang Skypark terminal, as well as enhance business connectivity towards the growing aerospace industry within the Subang Aerotech Park in the upcoming years.

“People can travel from KL Sentral to Subang Skypark in 28 minutes,” he said in the SPAD 2017 Annual Review last week.

As for the MRT2 (Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya), he said the project, which is expected to have a total of 52.2km rail and 35 stations, is 22% complete and will be ready for operation in 2022.

The LRT3, which is expected to integrate three stations — MRT SBK line at Bandar Utama; LRT at CGC Glenmarie Station; and KTM Port Klang at Klang Station — will be fully completed by 2021.

Meanwhile, Mohd Azharuddin said the MRT3 circle is still at tendering process and will be completed by 2025.

On the RM1.4 billion rehabilitation of 42km KTM Klang Valley Double- track project, he said the overall project is progressing at 54.1% as of last month.

The project, which is expected to complete by end-2019, will upgrade KTM stations to 16 and improve the signalling and electrification system for its overall network.

Upon completion, it is expected to reduce KTM headway to only 7.5 minutes from the current 15 minutes interval.

“By 2025, we are projecting a 32% increase of railway line in the Klang Valley — 562.9km total length com- pared to 426km currently,” he said.

He added, the government currently subsidises one third of all rail transport services operation cost as the ticket collections alone would not be sufficient to cover the entire services.

The report also stated that the total bus commuters recorded a 1% fall in ridership to 512,054 of commuters in 2017 compared to the previous year — mostly due to the users shifting to the railway services and also the increase of e-hailing popularity.

“As people are changing their travelling mode towards rail, we are relooking at the network, so, there will be more coverage in terms of last mile connections availability to the people,” he said, adding that this would ensure the bus system to remain relevant in the ecosystem.

Public Transport

Total bus commuters recorded a 1% fall in ridership to 512,054 of commuters in 2017 compared to the previous year (Pic by Afif Abd Halim/TMR)

As for MRT1, he said 300 feeder buses have been operating — with a frequency of 20 minutes per bus, and daily ridership of 35,000.

Another operator, Bus Rapid Transit Sunway line recorded a 34.6% increase in average daily ridership, or 7,244 commuters, recorded last year.

The line, which incorporates a 5.4km route covering seven stations, has only recorded 5,382 average daily ridership the year before.

The report also stated that there was a 22% increase of the GoKL free bus service ridership from 51,812 in 2016 to 63,218 daily passengers last year.

To improve other states’ connectivity, the government had also introduced the Interim Stage Bus Support Fund in 2012, which has benefitted at least 467 million cumulative daily passengers travelling along 411 routes as at June last year.

Mohd Azharuddin said up to RM79.4 million of funds was disbursed last year, providing the needed lifeline for 61 stage bus operators which operate the less profitable routes operation.

On the ride-hailing industry, which is taking away the existing taxi market shares, he said SPAD is engaging the taxi drivers to adapt with the changes.

“The government has given new licences and RM5,000 in grants for them to buy new cars — either to be taxi driver or join e-hailing services,” he said.

To date, 1,200 eligible taxi drivers had received individual taxi permits, while another 581 drivers were given the grants.

A survey by SPAD last year also showed that the public is satisfied with the public transport system.

“Ninety percent of the respondents are satisfied with the services last year compared to 84% in 2016, while 81% said they’d continue using public transport,” Mohd Azharuddin said.

SPAD’s next concern is to improvise express bus safety protocols via the creation of biometric control system.

He said the system will enable operators to keep tabs on the condition of their drivers to ensure no one can operate any bus if the mandated minimum rest period is not observed.

He said RM45 million has been allocated for the express bus safety under Budget 2018.

SPAD also plans to introduce its online response apps — “MeterOn” — that will enable passengers to lodge direct complaints of any misconduct among public transport operators.

“We are also considering to integrate the platform with e-hailing companies for such purpose,” he said.