On Tuesday, May 25th, TRANSIT Malaysia put out a call-out to passengers to submit photos and videos through Twitter to understand the impacts of the new SOPs on the public transport system. We would firstly like to thank everyone who contributed to this effort.
Throughout the morning and evening peak hours, we received numerous complaints about overcrowding on both trains and rail stations. Members of the public complained that adhering to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) outlined by the government was impossible, due to reduced service frequencies on the part of RapidKL. Passengers argued that there were not enough space and service frequencies at the stations to cater to the high demand and allow the public to maintain a safe physical distance. This is worsened by the fact that the MCO 3.0 SOP mandated only 40% of the private workforce to work from home – necessitating the need for a majority of office workers to continue travelling to their workplaces as normal.
We have now seen the dangerous consequences of this congestion, with COVID-19 positive MRT and LRT passengers having to use Twitter to warn their fellow passengers of their test results and encourage them to get tested immediately. While we applaud the courage of the passengers concerned in warning the travelling public about their COVID-19 test results, this harm to public health could have been managed with better SOPs and management on the part of Prasarana.
Failure to follow best practice
What was observed on May 25th does not follow the best practice of public transport authorities globally to regularly publish their respective transit vehicle overcrowding indicators. Even pre-COVID, there is barely any form of level of service reporting and action from the authorities on rail and bus overcrowding. Our SOPs contravene good COVID-safe practices by other cities around the world. While RapidKL reduced services, many other communities, such as those in Toronto, Copenhagen, Vancouver, Sydney and Singapore have increased services and provided overcrowding indicators online to reduce overcrowding, allow passengers to plan journeys and improve physical distancing.
Rather than reactively increasing service frequencies based on demand, RapidKL must be proactive in providing more services to allow for more social distancing. The required overcrowding threshold reduction from 6 to 1 passenger per square meter means services have to be increased by 6 fold to cater to public transport users. The recent RapidKL service cut announcement indicates a deterioration of service frequency by more than 80% compared to pre-COVID frequencies. Even for a 50% service cut to be contemplated, there needs to be a drastic eleven-twelfth (11/12) drop in trip demand.
Operators, MOT and APAD must also acknowledge that the non-optional trip makers are likely those who come from marginalized socioeconomic backgrounds such as essential frontliners, migrant workers and seniors who don’t have access to private vehicles. They are the most affected by changes to the public transport network. Hence, there is a fundamental need for stronger transparency and consultation with these members of the travelling public in how authorities decide on service changes.
Here, we remind APAD, the MOT and public transport operators that they have the duty to develop and execute realistic SOPs for the benefit of the travelling public. To this end, we demand that:
- All parties take the opportunity during the FMCO (Full Movement Control Order) to review SOPs to ensure passengers have the services they need to safely socially-distance on public transport when we emerge from lockdown.
- The Federal Government works with Prasarana, KTM and other public transport operators to ensure that they have the direct funding and staffing to run the extra services needed to deliver safe, socially-distanced services for the travelling public, especially at congestion hotspots on the network.
- The Federal Government and public transport operators work with employers to implement staggered working hours or implement realistic work from home measures, to ensure that peak demand on our public transport system can be managed more effectively.
The overcrowding on May 25th demonstrates that the existing SOPs are ineffective in providing a safe environment for passengers during the pandemic. Rather than dismissing these concerns as ‘fake news’, all parties must work together to remedy the SOPs so that these guidelines give certainty for operators and the public at every stage of the different Movement Control Orders (MCO). These SOPs must also reflect on-the-ground realities and challenges of taking public transportation during the pandemic. This important decision-making process cannot be made in a vacuum, and the concerns of the travelling public must be acted upon.