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‘Solutions’ to public transport problems focusing on the bus industry, not public transport users

By now everyone should be aware that a major crisis is taking place in the bus industry.

The shut down of CityLiner bus services throughout was the major ‘tipping pint’ in a series of crises [TRANSIT: refer to our “No Bus for You” series of posts] that showed the precarious state of public transport and the bus industry – and made it clear that SPAD has lost the plot by focusing on the MRT project rather than revamping & transforming public transport.

The nation-wide collapse of bus services are continuing, despite the recent announcement that the Malaysian Government has approved an RM400mn fund for public transport operators. Applications for this fund began earlier this week and SPAD intends to release the first Rm100mn as soon as possible.

TRANSIT notes that the government is stepping in with the financial aid to bus operators. We also note that Prasarana-RapidKL have talked about improving cooperation (actually, we should say “starting” cooperation) with private bus operators to reduce wasteful competition on different routes. At the same time, taxi drivers and other bus companies are benefiting from the lack of competition in the Klang area since CityLiner shut down bus services, affecting thousands of public transport users.

However, we need the government, SPAD and Prasarana-RapidKL to acknowledge that their “solutions” are not holistic and not sustainable. The problem is that they are focusing on short-term solutions for the crisis, not long-term solutions that will make public transport work, sustainably and effectively, and most importantly, meet the needs of public transport users.

And this, ladies & gentlemen, is the biggest problem. Everyone talks about fixing public transport but all the solutions that are put forward focus on the bus industry, rather than the public transport service. What’s worse is that the ‘solutions’ still fail to consider the needs of the public transport users.

Read about TRANSIT’s take on the issues and a proposed action plan after the jump!

The government does not need to bail out the bus operators in order to ‘fix’ public transport. What they need to do is create demand for public transport by ensuring that services are:

  1. available, meaning that public transport service is provided that users are able to access, and a service that will take users from where they are to where they need to go, with a minimum of time required;
  2. reliable, meaning that public transport service is provided in a way that a bus or train is present (e.g. at a bus stop or bus/train station), where and when it is supposed to be;
  3. frequent, meaning that the public transport service does not require users to wait for an unreasonable amount of time – less than 10 minutes is ideal, but for less-frequent services the bus/train should be on schedule;
  4. convenient, meaning that the service is nearby, fast, there are enough seats available for users, that the frequency is high and waiting time is low, that information about the services (including schedule, possible disruptions, and incentives) are communicated effectively & quickly;
  5. safe & comfortable, meaning that users feel safe & comfortable while waiting for and using public transport, and;
  6. affordable, meaning that users feel that they are getting a good value for their public transport fare.

The government and the industry and all of those people offering suggestions to improve public transport always seem to forget the above ‘needs’ (yes, these are needs, and not ‘wants’) that all public transport users – from the low-income senior to the high-income executive to the celebrity – say are important to them.

So let the government & SPAD and the public transport operators take note – if you do not consider what the public transport users need, you will never be able to create an holistic, effective, and sustainable public transport service … and without an holistic, effective, and sustainable public transport service, the bus industry will continue to suffer.

So, how to do it? It’s actually pretty simple to take the Bus Transformation Plan (BTP) and Urban Rail Development Plan (URDP) and turn those plans into action. Here’s how it could (should) happen:

  • Prasarana gets out of the bus operations industry by selling its bus assets (Prasarana currently owns 100% of the “shares” of RapidKL Sdn. Bhd. and RapidPenang Sdn. Bhd.) to private investors who are not connected to other bus companies. This will allow Prasarana to focus on owning rail assets which are the “backbone” of public transport services. (BTP, URDP);
  • The brand names “RapidKL” and “RapidPenang” are retained for the exclusive use of two new Public Transport; (BTP, URDP);
  • Organizing Authorities which will be created for the Klang Valley and Penang. These Authorities will be described below. (BTP, URDP);
  • These new authorities in the Klang Valley & Penang will include representatives from Prasarana, SPAD, the Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing Ministry, state governments (Selangor & Penang), and local governments (DBKL, MBPJ, MBSA, MPAJ, MPS, and MPKj for the Klang Valley, MPPP and MPSP in Penang), as well as respresentatives of public transport users and bus operators. (BTP, URDP);
  • These new authorities (named “RapidKL” and “RapidPenang”) will “own” public transport service in their respective areas. They will be responsible for organizing & managing existing public transport services and planning for future public transport services. (BTP, URDP);
  • Prasarana will own and operate MRT, LRT & Monorail services on behalf of “RapidKL” and “RapidPenang”. (URDP);
  • KTMB will offer commuter rail services through its Komuter and ETS brands. KTMB will also have the right of first refusal to offer any rail services proposed for the Northern Corridor Economic Region and Iskandar Development Region. If KTMB does not express interest, the rail services will be tendered out on a contract basis to Malaysian and international rail operators. (URDP);
  • Bus services (including Bus Expressway Transit and proposed “Bus Rapid Transit” services) will be offered to privately-owned (or government-owned) bus companie — including the former RapidKL & RapidPenang — under a system of competitive tender, using time-limited gross-cost or net-cost contracts. (BTP);
  • This means that “RapidKL” and “RapidPenang” would hire the bus operators to provide bus services as “RapidKL” & “RapidPenang” want … rather than the bus operators providing services where and when they like. (BTP);
  • All fares & major revenues would be collected by bus & train operators on behalf of “rapidKL” and “RapidPenang”, while bus operators would be free to find other sources of revenue such as advertising. (BTP, URDP);
  • Taxi services (also being revamped under the Taxi Transformation Plan) would also be designed to support local public transport with some “regular” taxi permits being converted to provide local shuttle bus & community bus/ feeder bus services. (BTP, TTP);

And there you have it … a public transport action plan towards services that are holistic, sustainable, and meets all stakeholders’ needs – especially those of the public transport users.

And more importantly, there is an action plan to make it happen. Now all we need to do is have the PM (who is also Finance Minister) direct the Finance Ministry (which owns 100% of the shares of Prasarana) and SPAD (which is part of the Prime Minister’s Department) to make the necessary regulatory & structural changes to allow this to happen. Once Prasarana is “out” of the bus industry and the necessary representatives are pulled in to make things work, the real transformation can begin.

It’s not that hard to do. We just need political will AND leadership.


By the way, for your interest, here is a collection of recent articles about the collapse of public transport services throughout Malaysia:

2 replies on “‘Solutions’ to public transport problems focusing on the bus industry, not public transport users”

There are only two solutions for all bus operators. Merged or closed down. No more subsidize or buy out. There is only waste our taxpayer money.

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