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How integrated will MRT be?

 | February 25, 2011

It is hoped that we have learned from the chaos of the current systems and the good examples of Vancouver, Singapore and London

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If the existing transit systems in Kuala Lumpur are anything to go by, there is cause to doubt that the planned Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system will be a truly integrated one, as promised in the proposal Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak made last year.

The ideal integrated public transit system should have multiple interchange points between the main lines and between them and the subsidiary lines that serve residential areas. And there should be bus and taxi stands and car parks at every station. Above all, the system must allow for convenient transfer between the different lines and between modes of transport on the same ticket.

For example, there could be local monorail lines providing connections between the MRT, LRT and KTM Komuter lines and the various sections of Petaling Jaya, Subang Jaya, Shah Alam, Puchong, Setapak, Gombak, Cheras and other suburbs.

The existing LRT, monorail and KTM Komuter stations suffer from a dearth of interchange points and an inadequacy of connections with city buses. And because the different lines were built and originally operated by different concessionaires, they don’t meet at the same stations.

If you are travelling from, say, Gombak to Ampang, you must exit the Kelana Line at Masjid Jamek to enter the Ampang Line, but only after some exercise for your legs. In the process, you have to cross a couple of turnstiles and buy a new ticket.

The KL Monorail, which runs through the Bukit Bintang commercial district, stops short of the KL Sentral station, requiring passengers to walk a considerable distance to connect to the Kelana, KTM Komuter, KTM Intercity or KLIA Express line.

All this is bad enough for regular commuters, but it is plain torture for travellers with heavy luggage.

But this is a breeze compared with transferring between the Kelana line’s Dang Wangi station and the KL Monorail’s Bukit Nanas station. You would have to cross the pedestrian bridge over Jalan Ampang and then walk a further distance to Jalan Sultan Ismail.

The typical KL Monorail station has its entrance and exit on the same platform, requiring passengers to climb up and down stairs to the other platform.

Bus loop

Then there is the issue of onward connections once you have arrived, especially at the suburban stations. There are feeder buses, but some of them operate at 30 to 45 minute intervals. Also, while some LRT stations allow the feeder buses to enter the bus loop outside them, other buses have to stop on the main road. Why can’t they get into the loop as well? What kind of integrated system is this?

Besides privately operated car parks on vacant land outside some stations, there are no real park-and-ride facilities. Moreover, these car parks are disappearing one by one, with commercial buildings replacing them.

Public transit systems have been around for more than 150 years. Many of our senior civil servants and some of our ministers had the opportunity to use them while they were students abroad. So it is hard to understand why they don’t know the basics of an integrated system.

One of the best systems in the world is in Vancouver, Canada. It is operated by TransitLink, the Metro Vancouver regional transport authority.

TransitLink operates Vancouver’s buses, its Skytrain LRT and the SeaBus, a catamaran ferry that shuttles across the Georgia Strait. A traveller can transfer between different bus routes and modes of transport on a single ticket within a 90-minute period. So he can ride the SeaBus, transfer to the Skytrain, then to a bus and then change as many buses as required to reach his destination – all on a single ticket. And, if there is time remaining on the ticket, he can travel back on it.

Singapore’s system is less integrated in terms of ticketing, but connections between buses, the MRT and LRT are easy. And passengers can use a card similar to our Touch ‘n Go to travel on different modes of transport.

The MRT stations at Chao Chu Kang, Sengkang and Punggol each connect with an LRT loop, and it is a simple matter for passengers to walk across the platform to transfer between MRT and LRT lines, all on the same ticket.

London’s public transport system is also well integrated physically, with ample bus stops outside London Underground’s 270 metro train stations. Also, transferring between the different lines of London Underground’s network is just a walk or an escalator ride. Again, you use just one ticket.

However, that wasn’t always so. London Underground began operations in 1863. By the early 20th century, six independent operators were running different lines, resulting in much inconvenience for passengers. They had to exit one station and walk a considerable distance above ground to another station.

Lack of consideration

Initial moves towards integration were made by getting the different operators to cooperate for their passengers’ benefit. Then, in 1933, the London Passenger Transport Board was formed and London’s metro trains, trams and buses were all merged into it. Soon after that, the board began to integrate all the different metro train systems into one.

It appears that the planners of the Klang Valley’s LRT and monorail systems did not learn from the  mistakes of earlier systems and have provided us with a 19th century system.

Moreover, the interior design of some of the LRT carriages shows a for passenger comfort and safety.

For example, the hand grips for standing passengers on the Kelana Line carriages are placed so close to the seats that there is always the risk of stepping on toes.

The Vancouver, Singapore and London systems are proof that an efficiently run government monopoly, free of corruption, cronyism and nepotism, can do wonders for the people, compared to multiple privatised systems.

Now let us wait and see whether Malaysia’s Land Public Transport Commission and the MRT operator, Syarikat Prasanara Negara, can do as well.


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