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Will SPAD become a bureaucratic monster?


Will SPAD become a bureaucratic monster?

In the 2010 Budget, Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib announced that the Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat (Public Land Transport Commission) would be formed in mid-2010 as part of the government’s committment to improve public transport.

We know that the Public Land Transport Commission will combine the duties of the Road Transport Department and Department of Railways and that the Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board will likely be shut down. But we have also heard that the Public Land Transport Commission will be placed under the Prime Minister’s Department so that it can be closely monitored and allowed to grow successfully.

Having a single Public Land Transport Commission is expected to help cut through bureauracy and red tape and improve public transport through better coordination of the various ministries and agencies that are currently involved. But rest assured, there will still be many agencies that will be involved, especially at the initial stages when SPAD is created.

The Finance Ministry will still be there as it is the owner of Prasarana and RapidKL. The Economic Planning Unit will still be planning public transport projects and the purchases of new trains and buses. The Department of Town and Country Planning will still have some say, and so will the Works Ministry and the JKR. The Home Ministry will also be involved, with the police providing public transport security and law enforcement. And local governments will still have to help coordinate the public transport planning and services at a local level.

Ironically, one Ministry that may no longer be involved would be the Ministry of Transport. Remember, the Public Land Transport Commission will combine the Road Transport Department and Department of Railways and put them into the Prime Minister’s Department. All that might be left of the Ministry of Transport would be the departments that handle water and air transport.

So will SPAD improve public transport? The answer is, not immediately and probably not for some time to come. Initially, SPAD will be busy sorting out the massive bureaucracy and politics associated with its creation. Then, there will be the challenge of coordinating with the other ministries and agencies that it will still have to deal with. Then, SPAD will have to figure out how to make a difference at the regional and local levels.

This process will take time, perhaps years. And what will happen to public transport during that period? Will it continue to muddle along with inconsistency between planning and action, poor enforcement, incomplete networks and costly infrastructure? Not to mention the continuation of the unhealthy competition that is eating the industry alive?

When I suggested to the government to create a National Public Transport Authority, I imagined a coordinating body that would set national standards for the planning and operations of public transport. The National Authority would provide the necessary infrastructure funding and support to Local Public Transport Authorities and Regional Public Transport Authorities. At first, these authorities would regulate and plan public transport at a local level.

Initally the authorities would work to improve public transport first by addressing the basic inefficiencies and weaknesses of the entrepreneurial model. The second step would be to coordinate public transport and roads and highways, taking advantage of synergy between these modes of transport for better overall mobility for more people.

What seems to be happening is the opposite. Despite the talk about a Rakyat-centred approach and asking for public feedback, the government is taking the top-down approach. The initial planning for the role of SPAD has focused on the centralization of public transport in the Prime Minister’s Department in Putrajaya. The decisions that are being made are not public or transparent at this point, and people are forced to adopt a “wait-and-see” approach.

Unfortunately, the “wait-and-see” approach cannot work. We simply cannot afford to ignore problems that exist on a day to day level. The best practices for public transport all focus on separation of regulation and operation, planning at the regional level, and contracting out of services. These practices must be adopted in Malaysia with or without the Public Land Transport Commission.

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