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It is time for real leadership in public transport

The members of the Association for the Improvement of Mass-Transit have noted that this appears to be a week of major change and announcements for public transport. We have a new Minister of Transport, Kong Cho Ha, who intends to focus on public transport. The Land Public Transport Commission (Spad) was created on June 1 with Syed Hamid Albar as the first chair.

We also have the recent announcement of unsolicited proposals for an MRT network in the Klang Valley and a high-speed rail route between KL and Singapore. In addition, Prime Minister Najib Razak will introduce the 10 th Malaysia Plan on Thursday.

Despite all these changes, Transit wonders how much effort is being made to shift our public transport industry from an 'entrepreneurial' model to a 'service-based' model. The recent unsolicited proposals appear to be another example of 'entrepreneurial' public transport, just on a much larger economic scale. Instead of trying to make money directly from the public transport user, these developers are trying to make money directly and indirectly from government mega-projects.

No matter how much money is invested into mega-projects, we will never see an improved public transport system unless there is improved leadership and a real push towards a service-based model. We can only hope that with Prime Minister Najib as minister-in-charge, Syed Hamid Albar as chair, and Mohd Nor Ismail Nor Kamal as CEO, the Land Public Transport Commission will be proactive leadership, with a clear vision for public transport and the confidence and ability to move the industry forward, not backwards. Similarly, we hope that Kong Cho Ha, as minister of transport, will put people first not companies first.

Before we look at LRT and MRT projects and spending perhaps RM50billion to expand the rail network in the Klang Valley, we must first improve the reliability and availability of the existing bus services in the Klang Valley and other cities throughout Malaysia. The best way to do this is in two simple steps:

First, Spad must work with the minister of transport, local and state governments to create Public Transport Organising Authorities for the six largest urban areas in Malaysia - namely the Klang Valley, Johor Baru, Penang, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu and Ipoh.

The Organising Authorities - which could be government agencies (like the Penang Transport Council), private companies (like RapidKL) or responsible agencies (like the Iskandar Regional Development Authority) - would be responsible for the planning, management and organisation of public transport in their respective regions.

That means, they would work with existing public transport operators to improve the availability and reliability of basic public transport services and expand those services to meet the social and economic needs of each region.

Second, as part of the 10 th Malaysia Plan, the government would give RM1billion to each of the six Organizing Authorities. The Organizing Authorities would then invest this money (and more which they would raise themselves) into creating complete and sustainable rapid transit networks.

At current prices, RM1billion will buy either 4km of LRT (at RM250mn/km), 10km of Monorail (at RM100mn/km), 20km of RapidTram (at RM50mn/km), or between 50 and 80 km of bus rapid transit (at RM10-15mn/km). Although RM6 billion may not seem like a large amount of money (compared to RM30-50 billion that some suggest is needed), if the money is spent in the most cost-effective manner, we can build the complete, reliable public transport networks that our cities need.

Once public transport in these six cities has been stabilized by the Organizing Authority, and a complete rapid transit network is in place, the government can start looking at larger scale investment projects like MRT and High Speed Rail.

Earlier attempts to solve the problems in our public transport industry have involved spending bigger and bigger amounts of money -but because the fundamentals have not changed, the money has not led to the expected results.

If we really wish to improve public transport, those in charge must be capable of leading the push forwards. For this reason, TRANSIT urges the public to contact Prime Minister Najib Razak at [email protected] or his twitter feed @NajibRazak and tell him that we need him to take the lead, for the sake of better public transport throughout Malaysia - not just in the Klang Valley.

The writer represents Transit .