Rapid Rail was rapped by the Home Minister for its (now reversed) announcement of physical distancing relaxation on its trains, with the minister quoted saying “we understand their concerns” that “less passenger capacity” due to the measure translates to less revenue for every cost unit incurred.
The real irony behind this is his use of the pronoun “we” and “their” as if the money-losing state-owned Prasarana (parent of Rapid Bus and Rapid Rail) have always acted as a for-profit entity (duh!).
Another twist is how MoT’s own SOP is inconsistent with the Home Ministry’s ‘guideline’. What kind of research that has been done to support such divergent recommendations? Any empirical evidence on what level of transit service would likely be needed to fulfill the less-than-desired passenger load (in our case, 34% as quoted)? At what per cent of regular pre-MCO capacity would our government-funded operators need to prepare during RMCO to achieve what per cent of pre-MCO ridership (which depends on what per cent of pre-MCO commuters that can make do with telecommute)? What is the plan to provide even more frequent bus and train services when passengers are likely to be barred from entering vehicles that surpass one-third capacity threshold?
Consider the below photo-op on peeling of physical distancing sticker in Singapore, which has recently ended its circuit breaker move.
By failing to plan, the government is planning to fail, and this is clearly shown by this truly utter lack of coordination, as there is no excuse for transit users to end up absorbing that slack in shoddy RMCO preparation.
And on a more important note, when it comes to public transport, our publicly-subsidised RapidKL is the face of our government. It is easier for our political bureaucrats to relegate the blame of inconsistent policy directives to working technocrats than to take the blame of the lack of political will to fix the urban public transport operational spending and capital funding, which has never been sustainable even pre-MCO.
Enough sweeping the problem under the carpet. RapidKL is not owned by some local towkey or overseas investors, it is owned by all of us. Its accumulating financial deficits from years of care-free spending will eat up into long-term, inter-generational resources that would better be channeled towards other meaningful things like healthcare, education and social welfare. Worse, its ability to catch up on revenues are stunted by other government agencies’ business-as-usual care-free approvals for relentless transit-hostile real estate and free flow road/highway expansions.
We should have a say on how RapidKL is being run, how they should be accountable in securing riders’ loyalty, and how other agencies (complacent, single occupancy vehicle and free flow traffic-promoting agencies particularly Kementerian Kerja Raya and PBTs, we are looking at you) should be accountable in making people overly dependent on their cars and mopeds.
There is a dire need for complete overhaul of our messy institutional patchworks of urban transportation planning, which artificially forms a nice carpet-looking facade that really does nothing but a convenient political upholstery used to obscure all the dusty quick fixes that have never stood the test of time. The government has been offloading transit planning responsibilities to diffused set of parties who are all working in silos, to the extent that we ought to think that fairness is a zero-sum game. Maintaining transit’s physical distancing rule is fair, but so is coming up with sustainable transit funding framework.
There are no ceilings of monthly pass fares that can work to catch up with post-MCO slack in ridership uptake (what more on catching up to be on par with other livable cities), and no lengths of CEO and Chairman candidates that can stop Prasarana’s never-ending financial bleed, unless we start to treat urban public transport as a public good that we have been taken for granted all these while before social nearness suddenly becomes a distant memory.