On October 11th, interstate travel restrictions were lifted as part of Malaysia’s transition towards a COVID-normal life. While a majority of states have been advancing to Phases 3 and 4 of the National Recovery Plan, public transport operations remain stuck in pandemic mode. This can be seen in the reduced frequencies of urban public transport services across greater Kuala Lumpur. We can also see this in the skeleton KTM and ERL timetabled services to suburban, regional and rural areas. This is compounded by a lack of certainty from the government on how public transport should operate as Malaysia recovers from COVID-19. The most recent update to SOPs was made in September 2021. No further updates have been made since then.
TRANSIT Malaysia urges the Ministries of Transport and Health, as well as the public transport sector, to restore pre-pandemic public transport frequency. These frequencies should be inline with public transport guidelines and operations across Malaysia as we continue to open the country up.
Public health ramifications
Public transport operating at low frequencies can have negative public health implications. TRANSIT Malaysia maintains its view that frequency reductions do more harm than good in curbing the transmission of diseases, including COVID-19. Low frequency results in overcrowded stations and bus stops. Commuters will be packed into public transport vehicles that may not be well-ventilated, knowing that missing a bus or train would mean waiting in excess of 30 minutes to an hour for the next. The resulting close contact in an enclosed vehicle increases the chances of infection.
People with disabilities and the elderly are at a highest risk of infrequent public transport operations. These commuters require more space on board, which would be impossible if services continue to be infrequent, especially during peak hour transitions (6.30-7.30am, 4.15-5.30pm, 7-8pm).
Meeting increased demand
Given that the vaccination rate among the adult population is above 90%, the government has eased restrictions for most activities. This has led to a sharp increase in demand for public transportation (see Appendix A for observation). We believe that operational frequencies are currently insufficient to cope with this drastic increase in demand. As businesses return to normal, certain off-peak windows have a steeper increase in demand. These times are during lunch hours (11.45am-1.45pm) and later at night (9.45pm-10.45pm). It is disproportionate to relax workplace, business and public gathering/socialising SOPs while not doing the same for public transportation to cater for increased demand. This is particularly important as more people begin to move around for social or work purposes.
Following that, we are concerned about the resulting poor public perception of public transport. Poor public transport leads to more people having to rely on cars to carry out daily activities. This further embeds car dependency in our society, as public transportation continues to be perceived as only for those who cannot afford a private vehicle. In the long term, this will be damaging to efforts of making our cities and regions liveable and accessible.
Ensuring that our public transport system is sustainable
We believe that sustained investment and cross-sector collaboration is needed to ensure the long-term viability of our public transportation system. It is also important to ensure that the rakyat can depend on a public transport system that is safe and accessible for everyone. Public transportation is essential in Malaysia’s COVID-19 recovery.
In order to bring people back to public transport, the public transport sector and government must formulate and implement a comprehensive strategy to:
- Ensure public transport operators have the plans, operating and capital expenditure needed to operate and enhance public transport now and into the future.
- Restore public transport frequencies to pre-pandemic levels to cater for increased public transport usage. (see Appendix B)
- Improve and expand regional/rural services so that Malaysians have equitable access to efficient public transportation.
- Improve first-and-last mile connectivity with public realm improvements that support active transport and strengthened bus services.
- Review and strengthen existing planning regulations that emphasise compact, walkable, pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use communities centred around high quality public transport systems. Local authorities must be empowered to enforce these regulations and keep developers accountable.
- Review and strengthen existing planning regulations to encourage commercial activity and hubs along existing transit to fully optimise the return on national investment (ROI) in public infrastructure.
We also encourage the rakyat to reach out to elected representatives. It is important that the rakyat drives home the importance of efficient and equitable public transport services. Every single voice in this conversation builds the momentum needed to push the government and the public transport sector to act on these long-standing issues.