From Nur Sakinah Alzian
On Nov 9, services were disrupted at 16 stations along the Kelana Jaya LRT line. Prasarana Malaysia announced the line’s closure for a whole week as the train’s instability made it dangerous for public use.
At a press conference, the government agency’s CEO said the management was still looking into the issue and that foreign experts would be brought in to help. Meanwhile, the company operating the LRT services, Rapid KL, and Smart Selangor deployed dozens of buses to accommodate the transport needs of affected commuters.
The week-long Kelana Jaya LRT line closure, which many urban dwellers rely on for their livelihood, signals and affirms the systemic weakness of our public transportation system.
Closing one of the main train lines in the heart of the capital city without more effective contingencies should be considered unacceptable.
Thousands of Malaysians working in the Klang Valley have been left furious and frustrated, forking out extra money for e-hailing services, walking kilometres to reach the next available train, and waiting in long queues for buses in the rain.
Issues with our public transport service are neither new nor novel. Users have regularly demanded more carriages to solve the problem of crowded trains and slow frequency, especially during peak hours. Escalators and ticket machines at train stations are often broken due to poor service maintenance.
People have complained about the reliance on Touch ‘n Go cards (which also only accept cash payments) for fare payments. In many places, bus stops are simply a single pole by the roadside with no signboards or bus schedules. Simply put, Malaysia’s public transport services are inefficient, inaccessible and poorly managed.
Based on an article by New Straits Times in 2017, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly 60% of Malaysians commuted using public transport regularly. As society returns to pre-pandemic norms, we can anticipate the number of public transport users to return accordingly.
With the general election (GE15) just over a week away, public transport issues are sure to dominate in the final week of campaigning.
Public transportation in manifestoes
While political manifestoes are not policies set in stone, they are excellent indicators of a party or coalition’s vision and mission for the future should they be elected.
In their manifesto, Barisan Nasional (BN) barely addressed issues regarding public transportation. They promise to improve connections between major cities by integrating and modernising the national railway network while also hoping to ensure that public services are 100% environmentally friendly by 2030.
Although BN is the only coalition concerned with making the service environmentally friendly, they did not provide any details or comprehensive solutions that would tackle systemic problems causing events like the Kelana Jaya LRT line disruption.
Among the three political coalitions that have announced their election manifesto, Pakatan Harapan (PH) is the only coalition that widely discussed public transportation problems while providing some solutions.
PH views public transport as a way to reduce reliance on motor vehicles and solve environmental pollution. Their proposed policies include ensuring train interval times do not exceed 10 minutes.
They also hope to make public transport more accessible by ensuring that 80% of city areas are a 10-minutes walk to a transit station. In places inaccessible by trains or buses, they moot the legalisation of micro-mobility modes such as e-bicycles and e-scooters.
PH also considers vulnerable communities’ experience with public transport by proposing free rides for senior citizens and imposing fare limits. Finally, knowing that users rely on e-hailing cars to reach transit stations, PH suggested collaborating with e-hailing companies like Grab to offer discount vouchers to users.
While Perikatan Nasional (PN) has more ideas about improving the current public transportation system than BN, their proposed policies lack the depth and detail necessary for change.
They promise to improve the public transport system nationwide and increase access to public infrastructures in rural areas, but no practical policies have been outlined in their manifesto.
It is imperative to highlight that PN proposed the development of more highways and gantry-less tolls to solve traffic congestion. Their vision of Malaysia’s transportation system is still motor vehicles.
Currently, Malaysians rely heavily on cars and motorcycles, which has increasingly proven unsustainable.
Nonetheless, PN has also proposed free school buses for B40 children. This suggested policy can help lower-income families from taking time out of work to pick up their children and improve access to education. Neither BN nor PH have considered this idea in their manifesto.
Putting public transport at the forefront of governance
Malaysia’s urban population will continue to increase. Politicians must realise that relying on motor vehicles in urban areas is economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable.
Last month, Sun Daily published an opinion piece that said that Malaysians working in the Klang Valley spend an average of 44 hours every month in traffic jams. People have no choice but to resort to privately-owned vehicles to escape the inefficient public transport system.
In July, Bernama reported experts warning that the number of cars is directly proportional to the pollution rate, which has a long-term effect on the people’s health.
That being the case, fixing the public transport system has to be one of the central issues in GE15.
The week-long Kelana Jaya LRT line service disruption brings this issue into the limelight. People may well be channeling their anger and desire for change when they cast their vote next week.
Malaysians must take political manifestoes with a grain of salt as there is no guarantee that once elected, politicians will fulfil their promises.
However, manifestoes serve as a yardstick for the coalition’s vision for Malaysia. Whichever political coalition is given the mandate next week must be held accountable for their promises. Only those that can bring concrete solutions to daily life problems plaguing citizens should be worthy of a vote.
Nur Sakinah Alzian is a research fellow at Social and Economic Research Initiative (Seri) and an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.