Can Anthony Loke deliver a world-class transport system?

Josh Hong

Transport Minister Anthony Loke needs to address several key issues plaguing the country's public transport system instead of tooting his own horn. – Facebook pic, March 28, 2023.

PHASE 2 of the MRT Putrajaya Line, or MRT2, was finally opened with much fanfare last week.

Now that commuters can travel between Kwasa Sentral to Putrajaya, does it mean people living and working in the Klang Valley can claim to have a public transport system on a par with those in Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo, London and Paris?

Not quite.

While there is no doubt many public amenities and cultural and art venues are now accessible by MRT, such as Taman Titiwangsa, Istana Budaya and the National Gallery, the current urban rail network will not be enough to significantly increase the use of public transport in Klang Valley.

It is simply premature to present MRT2 as a game changer. Even if MRT3 is approved and gets built, it still won’t meet the target of getting a 50% to 60% rate of urban public transport use by 2040, as part of the Low-Carbon Nation Aspiration 2040 plan.

There are several reasons for it – the most critical being the lack of first- and last-mile connectivity that continues to bedevil commuters.

To become a world-class city, Kuala Lumpur must first establish convenient public facilities, especially regular and reliable bus services.

For low- and middle-income families, the elderly or the disabled, and those who are unwilling or unable to drive, their best option is to ride buses, which symbolise social inclusion.

The greater use of public transport is among the best ways to reduce emissions and save the environment.

Thus, putting one more public bus that can carry 30 people into service is equivalent to removing 30 cars or motorcycles from the road, greatly improving air quality and reducing carbon footprints.

The Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research said using public transport is much safer than using private cars or motorcycles. 

After all, Malaysia is notorious for road fatalities – those caused by motorcycles in particular – when compared with our Asean neighbours, ranking third in the region with 24 road fatalities per 100,000 people, based on the 2018 Global Status Report on Road Safety by the World Health Organization, just below Thailand and Vietnam.

In many cities in Japan, South Korea, China, Singapore and Europe, commuters experience the benefits of buses daily and personally, made possible by extensive and efficient bus networks that complete the first- and last-mile connectivity for neighbourhoods not served by the urban rail network. 

Even Jakarta bus network Transjakarta is constantly expanding and improving, which has helped overcome traffic congestion in one of the largest cities in Southeast Asia and provides residents with convenience.

But in Malaysia, the advantages of bus services remain largely theoretical, all because of the severe lack of public infrastructure – such as safe and comfortable sidewalks as well as bus shelters – which makes commuting an unpleasant experience. 

The poor first- and last-mile connectivity also hinders efficient use of public transport. 

As far as the urban rail network is concerned, there is now better integration with more MRT-LRT-monorail links.

Engineer Ahmad Kamil Fadir once told the media the original specifications of several MRT2 stations were forcibly modified by the Pakatan Harapan government in 2019 to reduce costs, the Ampang Park station being an example of the move.

Instead of seamless transfers via underground passages between the MRT2 and Kelana Jaya lines, commuters now exit one station before entering the other.

Except for those who use the My50 Unlimited Travel Pass, everyone else is made to pay twice to transfer at Ampang Park, no thanks to Lim Guan Eng who bragged about his cost-cutting exercise on the MRT2 underground works in late 2018.

Anthony Loke as the new transport minister must demonstrate his capability to overcome the above challenges to make Kuala Lumpur a world-class city, rather than toot his own horn like he did recently by saying on a Chinese-language radio programme that our MRT system is comparable to those in Hong Kong and Singapore. 

With the rising cost of living hitting many, he must realise commuters’ patience is running thin. – March 28, 2023.

* Josh Hong is a keen watcher of domestic and international politics, who longs for the day when Malaysians master the art of self-mockery. He has spent the last 15 years trying to win his feline friends’ favour as he considers it an endeavour more worthwhile than trusting politicians, aspiring also to be a tea and coffee connoisseur.

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