TRANSIT took note of this column in Star Property, commenting on whether the MRT line (and network) will resolve the long-term transport problems in the Klang Valley.
Our answer…well, you have to wait for it. In the meantime, enjoy the article!
Can the MRT address the long-term transport problem? (Star Property)
22 January 2011
Thean Lee Cheng
MUCH will be said – and written – about the mass rapid transit (MRT) in the next several months with construction expected to begin in July this year. Some will be for it, others will be against it.
TRANSIT: There are some 4-carriage trains. Perhaps a better question is why not make all the service 4-carriage?
At RM36.6bil, the public transport system will be one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects. But this figure is for the civil works only. The prices of the trains and land acquisition have yet to be factored in. So the figure will certainly swell.
TRANSIT: Did we call it correctly or not?
The building of this new MRT line – as opposed to the current monorail and light rail transit – must be seen from the perspective of what we know today as our public transport system.
When the monorail and LRT were built in the mid-1990s, Klang Valley had a population of about 3 million. Today, we have a population of 6.6 million. By 2020, it is estimated to be 8 million.
While we were building our monorail and LRT in the mid-1990s, Singapore was extending their MRT system with the first portion of the line ready for service in the late 1980s. Despite a population of just over 3 million in 1990, they opted for the MRT in the 1980s, and not the LRT, monorail or whatever. Today, Singapore’s MRT is serving a population of more than 5 million people and that network is constantly being extended.
TRANSIT: By that time Singapore had already spent a very successful decade revamping and modernizing their bus system, which had increased the number of passengers beyond the level that an LRT or monorail system could handle.
Over in the Klang Valley, we were building two systems, the monorail and the LRT line. At that time, questions arose why we needed two systems and fragmentise public transport further.
TRANSIT: Actually, 3 systems. Plus the separate KTM Komuter and ERL systems (which use different track gauge). KL is a rail technology fan’s dream.
Why not have just one system? This question was never answered. The two systems lack integration. To use the monorail, one has to get off and get out of the LRT station, and walk some distance to get on the monorail line, for example between Dang Wangi and Bukit Nenas station.
The people who designed, planned and built the LRT and monorail also did not factor in park-and-ride facilities. They just built a station where they can, put in a line and expect[ed] everyone to walk there in the sun and rain.
The result is that today, there are cars parked under the electric lines which electrify the LRT [TRANSIT: The reference is to the LRT guideways] and there is a charge to this. So, in addition to spending about RM5 on a return ticket, there is the RM5 parking charge.
If one has to fork out RM10 to use the LRT or the monorail and yet at the same time, having to bear with the inconvenience, they may as well spend a bit more to have the convenience of driving to the city. That explains our low ridership. For every one ticket we sell, Singapore sells nine, London 16 and Tokyo 48.
TRANSIT: No, our low ridership is based on the fact that our bus system has not been improved at all before we introduced the LRT lines & monorail lines.
All of us know there is a cost to infrastructure. Whether it is road network, bandwidth or public transportation system, it is a sunk cost. As with most public infrastructure projects, there is no profit to be made from it.
TRANSIT: Not in Malaysia, that’s for sure. There is a lot of ‘profit’ to be made from infrastructure projects – and we aren’t talking about the contractors who sub-contract the contract and pocket the difference!
So the thing for the Government to do is to consider it as an investment for future years, for future generations. London’s underground is about 150 years old. It was the first underground railway system in the world. Today, it serves the Greater London population of more than 7 million, which is about equivalent to Klang Valley’s population. Greater London did not have a population of nearly 8 million some 150 years ago, yet they opted to build the underground. Closer home, Singapore did not have a population of 5 million 25 years ago.
TRANSIT: But compare the density of London and Singapore to the Klang Valley and you realize that they are far more dense than we are – hence, they had the critical mass of passengers needed to support an MRT.
And to be fair, many of the London Underground lines we know today were actually built (or extended) to serve as ‘commuter’ railways to service new suburban areas like West Brompton and Fulham.
When – and if – we build this MRT, it will not be for the next 30 or 40 years. It is for posterity. In that sense, it need not be wasteful.
But there is a need to be focused here. Do we want to sell more made in Malaysia cars to Malaysians or do we want to improve public transport? It is not possible to have both.
TRANSIT: Actually, we can have both. But we have to be realistic about how the cars will be used by the households.
One may ask, why not have more cars fitted to the present two-car LRT system? The LRT started with a two-car system. It can be fitted to a maximum of four cars. The LRT platform is designed to fit only four. The LRT has a carrying capacity of about 30,000 per hour per direction for a two-car system. So there is a cap to capacity. The MRT has 50% more carrying capacity and the car is 50% wider.
What is wasteful is spending money on piecemeal solutions – the LRT and monorail, for example – to solve a eternal question that hovers around population growth and the need for public transport.
TRANSIT: Good point, but how does it really relate to the column? Clearly the writer missed the point of discussion – our constant urban sprawl, conflicting density planning and lack of greenspace (Singapore and London are far more dense than KL but have more greenspace per person), as well as our transport planning.]
What is wasteful is having two MRT stations just 400m apart from each other.
[TRANSIT: Not necessarily. Each station might be serving a large catchment of people in the immediate area that could not be accommodated in a single station.]
What is wasteful is building the MRT, while ignoring and not improving the bus, taxi and Komuter system.
[TRANSIT: Full agreement there!]
We found this article a few days ago and have been working on this posting since then.
Initially, we thought the author was not so familiar with public transport and did not really discuss the issues in depth. And we still believe that there has to be more discussion of the issue of transport planning and development planning together – which was not present in the article.
And we would like to have a stronger discussion of the long-term planning for transport to go with our development planning. Unfortunately, the pace of the discussion is slow and many in authority are simply hoping that if we continue to build more densely, the problems will solve themselves.
The fact is that even with an MRT network in place, we can only expect that 40% of trips will be made by public transport, and perhaps 50% in the future (2025 or thereabouts) – barring any significant changes to the transport world.
That is why TRANSIT is concerned that the pace of transport planning is not keeping up with development. The focus on MRT-building will discourage those in authority and the public from paying attention to the most basic and middling transport issues – things like pedestrian walkways, bicycle lanes, active and accessible transport, and reliable, rapid transit.
Without a focus on all of the plans and issues together, everything that goes forward will still be ad hoc solutions, with a lot of hope for the better.a
An improvement, yes, but not the scale and scope of the improvement that we need.
As always, TRANSIT needs your ideas, thoughts and feedback. And we must share these ideas with those in authority so that we get the sustainable, livable communities that we need.