Taking the ‘jam’ out of KL


Transformation Unplugged – Datuk Seri Idris Jala

EVERY morning my wife drops me off at the train station. I grab a hot drink, find a seat and settle down for a good read.

This was pretty much my daily routine for four years in the mid-90s when I worked at the Shell office located near Waterloo station.

I chose to live in Cobham, a suburb about 40km from central London. Being far from the city meant I could afford a large house with sprawling gardens, and yet easily access the city for work and play.

It allowed my family to have a productive and, yes, wonderful life.

By 2020, 10 million people will call Greater KL home, translating to one out of every three Malaysians living in KL and surrounding suburbs.

As it is today, traffic in some areas can only be described as gruelling. Tempers flare and drivers feel trapped, stewing in their cars. By the time we get to the office, we are already tired – not a good start for productivity.

There is no point being a high-income nation when the quality of our lives are disrupted by arduous and long daily commutes.

When the GTP was launched in 2009, one of the main concerns involved tackling the daunting issue of urban public transportation (UPT).

The city needed an integrated and efficient system that allowed commuters to move about as fast and as easily as possible.

Let me paint a scenario. How do you get from your home in Sungai Buloh to your office in Jalan Sultan Ismail without having to drive?

You get on the KTM Komuter at the Sungai Buloh station, hop-off at KL Sentral, purchase a ticket at the LRT terminal, get off at KLCC, then either take the covered pedestrian walkway or the free GoKL bus to your office at Menara Standard Chartered. Seamless, fuss-free and already possible today.

But for someone who lives in densely populated Kota Damansara, the first mile connection is a challenge. Driving to Kelana Jaya to take the LRT definitely makes no sense but once the Kota Damansara MRT station is up, KLCC is accessible in under one hour by rail and bus.

We want to improve connectivity so that commuters do not have to walk any further than 400 metres to get to the first mile connection point or get out of stations to get to another transport line. The real value of UPT can only be felt when it is integrated and easy to use.

A two-fold approach is required for public transportation to become the preferred choice:

1. Pull factor

Public transportation must be attractive enough so people are drawn to use it. There are four important aspects:

First and last mile connectivity must feed commuters into the terminals conveniently and deliver them to their destinations on time. An efficient network of feeder buses that ply neighbourhoods and business districts, with proper park-and-ride facilities and pedestrian walkways are mandatory.

Facilities must be safe, clean and well-maintained without burdening commuters with unjustifiable costs.

As the network is integrated, the payment system must evolve so the commuter does not exit the commute trail to pay for a line shift. The experience must be seamless and fast.

A mobile app that features real time data for commuters to plan their journeys. They can time when they will leave their houses and how long it will take to get to their destinations.

A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that allows for a bus-only-lane on the Federal Highway from Klang to Pasar Seni is in the pipeline. Buses will be available every two minutes with plans for this to be shortened to every 30 seconds. This will be greatly reduced travel time uncertainty, with end-to-end journey taking one hour at peak traffic compared to two hours by car currently.

2. Push factor

Governments all over the world managing populous cities usually put in place policies to discourage people from driving their cars into the cities.

For example, London and Singapore introduce congestion charge or aerial pricing for people driving in the cities, in addition to high fuel price at normal market rate, without subsidies.

As we gradually rationalise fuel subsidies, and with the pull factor as described above, we will naturally gravitate to trains and buses as the more affordable option.

By spending less on subsidies, we can use the additional funds to upgrade terminals and pedestrian walkways, add coaches and expand the network to improve connectivity as the population grows.

Also, with less cars entering the central business district, city spaces can be utilised more productively instead of being allocated as car parks.

As an example, we spend hundreds of millions in subsiding the KTM Berhad operations. Low fares collected from passengers do not meet operational expenses.

We must gradually increase fares so that the company can improve their services. Government cannot continue to heavily subsidise a country’s public transportation.

I live in Kota Damansara and like every commuter driving along the MRT construction site, I have my fair share of feeling frustrated at the choking traffic.

I take comfort that this encumbrance is temporary because in the next couple of years, greater KL will have a dependable public transportation system that is fast, convenient and environmentally friendly.

If only we can get more people on board, peak hour nightmares and rising travel costs owing to high petrol prices will be a thing of the past.

Datuk Seri Idris Jala is CEO of Pemandu, the Performance Management and Delivery Unit, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department. Fair and reasonable comments are most welcome at [email protected].