Transportation sector in 2022

Considering that 75% of Malaysia is an urban region, having a reliable transportation system is crucial 


A GOOD transportation system provides direct benefits to people, businesses, the environment and overall economy. 

In the past decade, Malaysia has made significant strides toward increasing upward social mobility as it strives to become an advanced nation. 

Considering that 75% of Malaysia is an urban region, having a reliable transportation system is crucial. 

Low-income urban households would be at a disadvantage without dependable public transport, which would make it more difficult for them to advance economically. 

Admittedly, the country’s existing mass transport systems are occasionally afflicted by issues with safety and functionality. 

Nevertheless, it is important to note that a good transportation system has its most visible and significant impact on the socio-economic scenario of a developing country. 

The transportation industry, which includes trains, roads, water and air transport systems, is possibly one of the world’s largest industries, in terms of revenue, employment and resource usage. 

Transportation System Overview

Analysing different modes of transport systems in Malaysia, transportation expert and consultant YS Chan said the systems could be categorised as passengers or cargo over the air, land (road or rail) and water (sea or river). 

Speaking of air transport, he noted that as of today, precious cargoes continued to be transported by air, just like before and during the pandemic onboard dedicated cargo flights and in regular passenger flights. 

“Airlines have gradually been decreasing fares with an increasing volume of passengers. However, particularly between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak, the fares remain high. 

“So, it is yet to return to pre-pandemic days when fares were more affordable and travel more certain,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in an interview. 

As for roads, Chan opined that Peninsular Malaysia inherited a great road system from the British at the time of independence in 1957 — with trunk roads from north to south at both the west and east coasts and crisscrossed by a network of feeder roads — that facilitated the movement of people and goods. 

He said this enabled Malaysia to be the world’s largest producer of rubber, tin and palm oil at one time. 

During this time, he noted that Malaysia was relatively prosperous when other Asian countries were much poorer. 

However, Chan said new roads and highways will never be enough if the number of new vehicles on the road is not brought under control, pointing out that the exemption of sales tax has encouraged the purchase of new vehicles. 

“This is about 600,000 vehicles and another 600,000 motorcycles are registered annually. In a decade, there are six million of each. 

“All these contributed to traffic congestion in urban areas, especially in larger cities and public transport by buses and taxis are inefficient and unreliable. 

“However, most of our goods are efficiently hauled to our ports by road and shipped to all over the world, with Port Klang and Tanjung Pelepas being ranked as the 12th and 15th busiest ports in the world,” he noted. 

Meanwhile, Chan said the British also left behind a railway line stretching from the Thai border at Padang Besar in Perlis, to Singapore on the west coast, and the east coastline from Tampin, Negri Sembilan, to Kota Baru in Kelantan. 

However, upgrades were slow over the past decades. 

He noted that the Gemas-Johor Baru double tracking is expected to be completed only by the middle of next year, although the electric train service between Kuala Lumpur (KL) Sentral and Butterworth was launched in 2015. 

“In 1996, the first light rail transit (LRT) line was launched in KL and in 2017, the first mass rapid transit (MRT) was introduced. But the earliest commuter rail service was Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) Komuter in 1995, which have all received their fair share of brickbats. 

“Apart from packed trains and irregular service, amenities at the train stations leave much to be desired, such as non-functioning escalators left unrepaired for ages. 

“Also, cargo transport by rail had never been popular, partly due to the efficiency of private sector hauliers,” he said. 

As for water transport, Chan said there were not many issues because of open international competition, whether it is for shipping cargo or cruises. 

He noted that the longest river in the peninsula is the Pahang River (436km) and can be reached by shallow-draft boats almost all the way upstream to its source. 

Meanwhile, the longest in Sarawak is the Rejang River (563km) which is navigable for 130km and is a transport artery to the interior for both people and goods. 

Likewise, for the Kinabatangan River (560km) in Sabah. 

ECRL, LRT3, MRT3 Constructions Underway 

Recently, the Transport Ministry (MoT) assured that mega and large-scale projects that the previous administration managed will continue as usual. 

Minister Anthony Loke said this includes the Mass Rapid Transit 3 (MRT3), East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and Light Rail Transit 3 (LRT3) projects. 

He noted that the government’s current approach is that whatever project has been implemented will continue as normal. 

According to MRT Corp’s official website, the MRT3 is the last critical route to complete KL’s urban rail network, of which the line is 50.8km long and runs around KL’s outskirts. 

Construction is expected to begin in early 2023 and is slated for full completion by 2030, while operations for the first phase will commence in 2028. 

The estimated construction cost is expected to be in line with the MRT Putrajaya Line which will be around RM31 billion while the land acquisition cost is estimated to be RM8 billion. 

Mega and large-scale
projects which the previous administration managed will continue as usual, assures Loke (pic: MUHD AMIN NAHARUL/TMR)

With 50.8km of rail alignment, a total of 33 stations — which consist of 26 elevated and seven underground — will be built. 

Meanwhile, the LRT3, also known as the LRT Shah Alam Line, is a medium-capacity line which will be serving the Shah Alam and Klang regions on the western side of the Klang Valley. 

Previously, a total of 26 stations were planned, with a proposed 2km distance between each station. One station was to be an underground station, with the other 25 being elevated. 

As of the second quarter of 2022 (2Q22), LRT3 overall linewidth progress has achieved 74.04%. 

The ECRL, on the other hand, is a double-track railway link infrastructure project connecting Port Klang on the Straits of Malacca to Kota Baru in northeast Peninsular Malaysia, connecting Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan, and to the Central Region of the peninsula’s west coast. 

The construction of the railway link infrastructure project began in August 2017 which provides 20 stations, comprising 14 passenger stations, five combined passenger and freight stations, and one freight station. 

Currently, the overall progress of the ECRL project is at around 35.9%. 

The project is expected to be operational in Januar y 2027 and it can accommodate 5.6 million passengers a year, by transporting 440 passengers for a journey involving six carriages. 

Traffic Congestion Needs Immediate Action

According to Chan, some of the main transport challenges that demand immediate attention and solution is the insufferable traffic congestion which has gotten worse over the past few years. 

He said the traffic congestion in major urban areas such as in and around KL has made driving and parking a chore. 

On top of that, he said public transport such as trains do not serve many routes, with buses, taxis and e-hailing vehicles often stuck in traffic. 

“As for the solution, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. 

“What has been successfully practised in other countries could be copied — modified if necessary — and implemented here, such as the Area License Scheme, Vehicle Quota System and Electronic Road Pricing system found in Singapore. 

“However, the main challenge, above all else, is political will, as such decisions are not popular when people feel their usual ways have been disrupted, despite it being potentially better for them,” he noted. 

The government has also been repeatedly told to improve the quality of the public bus system nationwide so that more people will utilise it as their major form of transportation. 

To improve the bus system, the government has been urged to build and provide more public buses and bus stop facilities, expand public bus services nationwide, upgrade and clean the buses, as well as ensure that bus operators and drivers always follow the set travel schedule. 

Recently, Prasarana Malaysia Bhd through Rapid Bus Sdn Bhd announced their plans to add nearly 300 buses, including 100 electric buses involving an allocation worth RM180 million in 2024. 

Prasarana group president and CEO Mohd Azharuddin Mat Sah said the first phase of the additions only involved Rapid KL services following high demand among residents in the capital. 

He also noted that Prasarana will start opening tenders in 1Q23 and the provision provided also covers the work of upgrading the infrastructure and electrical cables at the station depot for the charging process. 

As an innovation, Mohd Azharuddin said his party will introduce the use of electric bus consisting of 45 minibuses, with a length of between 7m and 8m and 55 large-sized buses measuring 10m to 12m. 

He believed that a minibus service is more efficient because it is easier to move through busy areas and narrow streets such as residential areas, in addition to having a high frequency. 

Long-term Fix for Public Transport System

The Pakatan Harapan (PH)-led federal government has been urged to formulate a long-term solution to address the never-ending public transport issues in the country. 

According to Chan, Malaysia’s public transport system requires a long-term solution of at least 10 years or more, as it cannot be accomplished within a few years. 

He added that firstly, it would be too costly and beyond the resources to have effective public transport in place for most Malaysians to switch to public transport. 

“We will have to start in major cities using ‘carrot and stick’ by rewarding commuters using public transport with various incentives and making those insisting on personal transport pay for contributing to congestion,” he said to TMR. 

Since last year, many public transport users have complained about problems such as tardiness and long waiting periods between trains, causing stations to become overcrowded during peak hours. 

RapidKL — the manager of public transport services in the Klang Valley — had announced that the problem usually occurs when a train is undergoing maintenance. 

The Kelana Jaya line LRT is the most used line, with 330,000 commuters at peak times every day. 

Recently, the Kelana Jaya route experienced a major service disruption between Nov 5 and 7, in which RapidRail announced that an unstable Automatic Train Control (ATC) system was identified as the cause of the LRT train service disruption. 

Greater Investment Needed

It is undeniable that an important factor in determining performance in the transportation industry is infrastructure investment. 

This includes both new transportation building and improvements to the current network. 

Commenting on this, Chan stressed that more investments are certainly needed but Malaysia is short of funds, with most going for operating expenditure instead of development. 

He added that it is already a challenge to pay for a huge bloated civil service that contributes little or nothing to productivity and a ballooning amount to pay for pensions. 

“With little left, it is most important not to introduce measures that run counter to each other. 

“The government must decide: Do we want to control private vehicle ownership to reduce road congestion and promote public transport? We just cannot have our cake and eat it too,” he said. 

According to Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida), the transport services subsector consists of maritime transport, aviation and highway construction and maintenance. 

In 2021, a total of 24 domestic sources projects were approved with investments worth RM1.6 billion, a 143.5% increase compared to RM654.2 million worth of investment in the same period of 2020. 

Mida noted that Malaysia makes continuous efforts to provide safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable transport services. Going forward, the availability of an excellent transport system is a fundamental building block towards becoming a high-income nation.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition