Updated with comments from TRANSIT!
TRANSIT took note of the feature article on the Government Transformation Programme Urban Public Transport Lab.
We have included the article here for your interest. Comments on different sections will be posted tomorrow.
As always your comments are welcome. Please comment below.
On the right track for change (The Star)
Sunday February 14, 2010
By LEONG SHEN-LI
The use of laboratories to identify problems and provide solutions has proven successful in drawing up the Government Transformation Programme roadmap.
WHEN Mohamad Nur Kamal was told that he was going to head the laboratory tasked with finding solutions to the country’s urban public transport problems, the first thing that crossed his mind was “Why me?”
Then he tried to recall the nasty things he could have done in the past to deserve such punishment.
[TRANSIT: Ha! Not to mention that it opens him up to the occasional whacking from TRANSIT]
“I really thought of it as a curse,” the special advisor to Transport Minister Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat says.
And who could blame him for thinking that way? It was, after all, something new as far as the Government was concerned.
[TRANSIT: Ok, who designed the poster seen behind Nor Kamal??? Why superimpose the Kelana Jaya LRT line trains over the KL Monorail track???]
“In Government, we are used to a particular way of doing things. It is always menurut perintah (following instructions),” he explains.
“I was to manage a group of people who theoretically did not need to work together. They could have given me a very difficult time,” he adds.
Mohamad Nur’s lab was one of six set up as part of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s move to overhaul the Government under the Government Transformation Programme (GTP).
Under the GTP, six critical areas – identified as National Key Result Areas – were targeted for improvement. The labs were set up for each of the areas to identify problems and brainstorm for solutions.
Improving urban public transport is one of the NKRAs, the other five being reducing crime, reducing corruption, improving the quality of education, improving rural infrastructure and improving the living standards of the poor.
Twenty-five people were chosen for the urban public transport lab and they began their daily sessions for six weeks beginning in October last year.
Instead of the ordeal that everyone expected, the whole experience turned out to be rather pleasant.
“When we were approaching the end of the exercise, we felt a bit sad that it was all going to be over,” says Mohamad Nur.
Those who attended the lab were representatives from all bodies connected with public transport, namely the operators such as Keretapi Tanah Melayu and RapidKL; relevant government agencies such as the Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board and Road Transport Department; academics and other stakeholders such as the local authorities.
[TRANSIT: First issue – who were the people chosen to attend? We will do not know the names of all the members. TRANSIT was only invited to give feedback after the decisions had already been made and we have yet to see any of the discussion minutes or the data & papers that were examined by the panel.]
Mohamad Nur says gathering the group together was the hardest part of his job.
“They were from various agencies and parties and they had to be of a certain level to be aware of the issues and to commit to solutions,” he says.
An interesting thing was the choice of the Transport Ministry as the ministry in charge of the urban public transport NKRA.
“If you really look at it, the Transport Ministry has the least among the various agencies when it comes to public transport,” he points out. Nevertheless, he says, the support given by Ong was nothing short of “fantastic”.
[TRANSIT: We certainly think that Ong Tee Keat has gone out on the proverbial limb for public transport. However, he can take further steps and work on resolving problems outside of the Klang Valley too.]
The members of the lab were all locked in from 8.30am to 8pm. Some sessions lasted until the early hours of the morning, a fact which Najib got to know about and openly praised when launching the GTP Roadmap at the end of last month.
Problems were discussed and solutions deliberated in an open and honest manner. No one felt the need to downplay problems or were compelled to opt for certain solutions.
“They just put everything on the table and discussed enthusiastically. No one cared where the idea came from,” he says.
[TRANSIT: We know where some of the ideas came from]
As such, Mohamad Nur is confident in saying that the urban public transport laboratory was one of the more successful ones.
“We came up with realistic solutions. There were no airy-fairy ideas and almost 100% of our solutions were accepted,” he says.
The solutions from the lab were also among the first to be rolled out. At the end of last year, four-car light rail transit trains which can carry double the number of passengers compared to the old trains began operating along the Kelana Jaya LRT route.
[TRANSIT: The 4-carriage trains were purchased in 2008 under the previous prime minister and should not be counted as a success under the NKRA.]
Then last month, a new concept in bus travel – the Bus Express Transit which used tolled expressways and limited stops – began running, cutting travel time between the suburbs and KL city centre by half.
[TRANSIT: This is a nice ‘new concept’ but it has to be expanded and brought to a new level of service. Also, we still question why the BET 4 does not continue along KESAS to Seri Petaling.]
All these moves are aimed at encouraging more people to use public transport, and the improvement of public transport usage will be used to measure the success of this NKRA.
While common in the business world, the use of labs by the Government in the quest for solutions is certainly a first in Malaysia. Mohamad Nur believes this methodology is the right one to be adopted for the GTP.
“You know the usual way in which the Government would have tackled the task? It would have set up a task force. Meetings would have been held every two weeks.
“Before every meeting, everyone will be frantically reading the minutes of the last meeting and scrambling to do what he or she was supposed to do.
“The meetings will drag on for hours because more often than not, the same things will be discussed as nothing would have moved from the last meeting,” he says as a matter of fact.
Mohamad Nur says his background as a management and financial consultant brought a fresh perspective to the task. Prior to joining Government, he held positions like the strategy and business architecture group manager at Accenture’s Kuala Lumpur office, head of DRB-Hicom’s management support and group synergy division, and associate with US management consultancy A.T. Kearney’s Chicago and South-East Asian practices.
“Many are not familiar with business and economic elements when handling issues. When you bring in things like cost benefit analysis and returns on investment, you will very quickly be able to get your point across to the leadership,” he says.
And he believes the new approach also helped bring the best out of the participants.
“When a person is put under a menurut perintah situation, he is going to give you just enough to fulfil the perintah.
“My group did not need to listen to me nor work together. Yet, I think they gave virtually everything they had,” he says proudly.
The whole GTP exercise certainly broke a few records. The labs got together and began their work in October and by mid-December, their findings were completed.
Instead of just passing the results to the Government, the findings were presented to the public in the form of a stylish exhibition at a suburban convention centre. It was deliberately held on a public holiday so that working people could come.
An essential part of the exercise was getting the public’s feedback. The lab leaders were required to make presentations and many of them were grilled for hours by those attending the sessions.
At the end of the day, although there were those who were cynical about the ability of the Government to implement the findings, most if not all who visited the exhibition were impressed by the new approach that it is taking to improve its performance.
Looking back at the whole experience, Mohamad Nur says he would miss the adrenaline push, the constant get-the-job-done feeling, and the amazing team spirit of the lab.
Those elements made the job very addictive. He adds: “I am almost ready for more such challenges.”
But what really pushed everyone on was the feeling that they were bringing change for the better. “That made everything we did worthwhile.”
We hope you enjoyed the article and would appreciate your comments below.
Now for our comments:
TRANSIT has always been supportive of the government in the effort to improve public transportation – but we know how to call a spade a spade. Without fear or favour, we recognize the problems that exist, whether they are related to planning, service, quality, corruption or investment.
We also recognize good works wherever they may be – such as service improvements, investments in quality & accessibility, improved frequency, better accountability & more.
Openness & Transparency
With respect to the Urban Public Transport NKRA, we are disappointed that we were left out of the discussion. We would also like to have public access to the information that the lab reviewed in their planning for the improvements in the Klang Valley.
Giving people access to information and asking for feedback is the greatest effort & measure of accountability & transparency – not the public showcase that the article described.
If indeed that Idris Jala, the NKRA leader says that “Feedback is a gift” then the labs should do everything possible to share the information and get that feedback.
Our comments on RapidBET can be found here and they are pretty comprehensive. TRANSIT wants to see an expansion of RapidBET service to more routes and all day service. Ideally, RapidKL should fold their Express Bus Service into the RapidBET brand. Express Bus routes E1, E2 and E4 can become RapidBET 5, 6 & 7.
TRANSIT also proposes additional RapidBET services, such as Klang Sentral to the Jalan Duta bus terminal (using NKVE), and Jalan Duta to Ulu Kelang (using DUKE). However, we understand that this would require additional CVLB permits.
TRANSIT would like to see more local authority when it comes to the organization & the provision of public transport services. One ideal solution would be to create various Transport Councils (the lab is, in itself an early version of the Transport Council) with authority to introduce new bus services quickly.
Perhaps the CVLB could allocate a certain number of ‘variable’ permits to the Transport Council which would allow them more flexibility to improve service.
The expansion of the KL Monorail is mentioned in the Lab report but we have heard nothing about this so far.
TRANSIT notes that the focus of the Urban Public Transport lab was on the Klang Valley. Presumably they are now working on the problems in Penang.
TRANSIT also notes that some cities have already started to take the initiative to improve public transport on their own without waiting for the government. Kuching, Ipoh, Johor Baru and Kota Kinabalu are the current examples and Melaka may join the list soon.
TRANSIT wants the government to find ways to fund public transport at the local level so that the urban regions can find ways to take care of their problems themselves, without having to wait for instructions, directions & investment from the government.