By Rosli Khan
The element of public transport planning functions should be shared with the state governments just as transport minister Anthony Loke suggested when he said each state set up its own portfolio to deal with transport.
This function was previously undertaken by the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), a federal body that has since been dissolved and replaced with the Land Public Transport Agency (APAD) under the Ministry of Transport.
This is a great step forward and each state should grab this opportunity and equip themselves well with a right set-up, proper framework, good administrative structure and competent personnel to execute its new functions.
The transport planning process that was handled by SPAD previously was haphazard, unsatisfactory, not holistic, ineffective and failed to resolve many transport issues and problems faced by the state.
There was a tendency to over focus on improvements and concentrate new projects only in the Klang Valley rather than across the country.
Areas in Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Johor Bahru, Melaka, Ipoh, Kuantan and Penang require new forms of public transport so that these urban centres can move to the next level. But it has not been done. In this respect, SPAD has failed in these places.
In the case of Penang, the master plan for the state has not been fully endorsed nor approved by the federal authority. But at a cost of RM46 billion, it is rather expensive and there are calls to review it.
Perhaps, the time is right to undertake such a review while appreciating the fact that for long-term sustainability, Penang Island cannot and should not take in anymore vehicular traffic.
Therefore, the undersea tunnel is a bad strategy, unless it is purely meant as a form of public transport, a rail-based (LRT, tram) system only, but not road traffic.
Instead, some form of congestion charge should be formulated for Penang, the income of which should be used for public transport projects and improvement. Abolishing of tolls for the two bridges are out of the question for now, as it is too regressive.
At the federal level, there are also issues on competency when it comes to transport planning.
Whilst the major policy review and approval should be studied and formulated by the Ministry of Transport, obviously involving the minister, this role however, should not be left to a department such as the Road Transport Department (JPJ) or APAD alone.
JPJ is not a planning authority; it is purely a tax-collecting government agency. So any form of planning with regard to the issuing of new bus routes, bus and taxi permits and so forth, should be handled by the proposed new state transport portfolio.
However, such a policy has to be standardised and streamlined. This, I believe should be another role of APAD.
Also, at departmental or agency levels, some planning is needed for data and information-gathering purposes and this function must be carried out by the respective bodies. It goes without saying that any planning function requires a database for analysis purposes.
Thus, state-level JPJ offices and the central office of APAD must equip itself with strong database-collecting functions and some expertise is required there.
Whilst APAD should be responsible for some level of central agency planning functions, realistically the actual demand assessment and supply side of the services and supporting facilities, should be given to the state and local government.
The local authorities should, in theory, know better when it comes to the needs and requirements for local bus services, school bus needs, as well as feeder network for KTM, MRT or LRT services. Such planning functions should not be carried out at the federal level (APAD).
Grants for public transport
However, there is another planning role which the MoT (or APAD) should undertake, which it has not previously.
This is with regard to transport grants made available to support local public transport. Planning for public transport, at whatever level will be useless unless grants are made available to support its execution.
MOT should therefore consider the following:
- To use road tax revenue (a collection of more than RM4.5 billion per year through JPJ) as grants to be given to states or local authorities to improve public transport in their local areas.
- This allocation can be derived from each state’s JPJ collection. So instead of spending this revenue on road building, some of this revenue should now be channeled for public transport services.
- The quantum and formula of the grants can be determined by APAD using their database, prior knowledge and ready information. APAD would then be seen as a useful agency for the government.
- Planning for transport services (buses, school buses, taxis, terminals, stations and stops) should be carried out at the state and local government level and certainly not at the federal level. This includes provisions for terminals, stops and parking facilities at local areas including provision of land allocation.
- The grants’ source should come from the federal MoT through the collection of state JPJ offices via payment of road tax, drivers’ licenses, vehicle registration and inspection, as well as sales of number plates derived by JPJ.
- At the local level, the grants could be matched by the revenue earned from the provision of parking charges, a hefty income collected from vehicles parked in urban areas.
- It could be made mandatory therefore that collection of parking charges be used for public transport improvement instead as income to private parking companies.
Such a policy and accompanying strategies, will no doubt transform the MoT into a much more dynamic ministry.
In this regards, the MoT has many issues to examine and new decisions to make. All old formats must be done away with if a new way of thinking and new strategies are to be implemented.
Moving into the next gear or level of transport transformation would be the main objective, especially if public transport is to be improved.
There is, of course, a direct conflict between those encouraging greater use of public transport and those wanting to have more cars and dismantle car operating costs such as the reduction in petrol prices and doing away with toll charges.
This requires some juggling between popular decisions and long term solutions.
In order for the MoT to undertake this balancing act, it probably requires some level of expertise in the form of experienced advisors to formulate new concepts and critically examine the ideas.
A well-laid out plan can be undertaken before a decision is reached by the minister.
Rosli Khan has spent over 30 years in the transport industry managing more than 100 consultancy projects.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.