Speeding up Malaysia’s public transportation network

Urban rail is the most efficient mode of human transport, carrying anywhere from 30,000-60,000 people per hour in each direction. This is why resources have focused on the MRT, LRT extensions, LRT and MRT Line 3.Urban rail is the most efficient mode of human transport, carrying anywhere from 30,000-60,000 people per hour in each direction. This is why resources have focused on the MRT, LRT extensions, LRT and MRT Line 3.

The National Land Public Transport Masterplan, approved in 2013, is the first of its kind to feature a comprehensive, integrated, and multi-modal urban public transportation network as its eventual goal, according to Mohd. Nur Ismal Mohamed Kamal, CEO of the Land Public Transport Commission (Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat, or SPAD).

“Immediately after, the first regional plan (for Greater Kuala Lumpur) was developed. We are trying to create a public transportation system that is attractive enough such that at least 40% of all commuters in the region (at least during the morning peak hours) will take public transport,” he added.

Nur Ismal said this during an Industry Speaks panel event entitled “The Rail Challenge: Taking A City From Good To Great”, organised by the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) on recently. Also present as panellists were Azmi Abdul Aziz, Group Managing Director of Prasarana Malaysia Bhd., Hamdan Abdul Majeed, Executive Director of Think City Sdn. Bhd., and Lilian Tay, Senior Principal of Veritas Architects Sdn. Bhd.

In outlining the various components that made up the Greater KL regional plan, Nur Ismal highlighted urban rail transformation as being of the highest priority, as it is the most efficient mode of human transport, carrying anywhere from 30,000-60,000 people per hour in each direction. This is why resources have focused on the MRT, LRT extensions, LRT and MRT Line 3.

As Prasarana Malaysia Bhd. had been tasked with implementing these plans, Azmi expanded on the rail development that had already taken place, as well as those planned in the near future.

“As of today, both LRT lines (Ampang line and Sri Petaling line) are being extended, and the completion of the first Ampang line extension will be on 31 October 2015, with services running the next day with 4 new stations and train sets. While working on the line extensions, we are also rolling out the 36km LRT3 project in Selangor, from Bandar Utama (integrating with the Bandar Utama MRT station) to Johan Setia (just south of Klang). We have already called for project delivery partner (PDP) tenders; this is the first time that such a process has been undertaken in Malaysia.

Having formerly been SPAD’s Chief Development Officer, Azmi is in the unique position of having both drawn up the plan as well as tasked with implementing it.

“This entails studying the best practices from other cities and then adapting and implementing them to the local environment. In many cases, this also requires genuine partnerships between both the public and private sectors, as well as providing local investment opportunities,” he added.

“It is critical that we value-add to the plan, to increase the public’s confidence in the system as well as ensure future investments into the rail network. If we have an attractive ‘product’, we can always create the demand for it.”

Veritas Architects’ Senior Principal Lilian Tay agrees. “Public transportation has to work hand-in-hand with the various local councils; first of all, at the macro-level in terms of zoning and density, and at the micro-level in terms of the walking environment (as part of the ‘first mile’ and ‘last mile’ accessibility challenge). For example, in order for urban public transportation to generate the necessary returns, high densities within the inner city should not only be permitted but encouraged.”

Veritas Architects has been involved in the design of several transportation projects, including the LCCT, Penang Sentral Scheme 2, and most recently, the Muzium Negara, Pasar Seni, Merdeka and Bukit Bintang MRT stations.

Lilian believes that development above and around the stations could add tremendous value to the commuting experience.

“We need to consider how friendly and pleasant the system is to the user – not just for regular commuters, but first-time users or elderly retirees on an outing. We also have tried to customise the look of the stations, and not just make it a sterile environment; that way, commuters have a sense of ‘place’ when arriving at specific stations rather than having them all look identical,” she said.

Using architecture to turn the stations into works of art and add value to public transportation development is a view that Hamdan Abdul Majeed of Think City shares.

He also sees an opportunity for all the various stakeholders to come together and harmonise the developmental process.

“At the moment, for instance, land use is under the city authorities, public transport is decided by SPAD, implementation is being done by Prasarana, and the road network is handled by JKR; is anyone coordinating and orchestrating all these various efforts? Optimising the development potential will result in beautiful music being made, and not just a lot of noise as a result of everybody blowing their own trumpets.”

He also pointed out that stations are places where people converge, so part of the development of those areas should include the creation of strong public places.

The panellists agreed that various issues and challenges continue to require tackling, including those of safety and security perceptions by the public. Nur Ismal emphasised the seriousness with which SPAD treats public complaints concerning these matters.

“For instance, consumers using taxis can now report bad behaviour of taxi drivers using our newly-launched MeterOn smartphone app,” he clarified. “Depending on the severity of their actions, we will come down hard on them as quickly as the next day.”

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