Most Read
Most Commented
Read more like this
From Our Readers
A sustainable public transport system - possible?

I refer to the letters No rationale for RapidKL subsidy removal and Rapid KL: Let us move tears .

I had argued in my earlier letter than the fuel subsidy has done more harm than good. I believe this is also the case in public transport, and in fact, most of the subsidy schemes. I would like to add on to the points made in the two letters above I referred to.

I quote from the first letter: ‘The minute the government takes away the subsidy, Rapid KL will not vanish but it will simply move to operate like a business where profits are prized. This is because businesses or firms practice an economic theory called profit maximisation’.

It should be stressed that there are several scenarios for profit maximisation - in a competitive setting, in a monopolistically competitive setting, and in a monopolistic setting. The case that the letter refers to is under a monopolistic setting - and I agree that the company would indeed do what the writer had suggested - reduced frequency at off peak-hours, poorly-maintained buses filled to the capacity, and so on.

And I wholly agree with the statement made in the second letter letter that subsidising a monopoly has led to a steadily deteriorating service. As a frequent RapidPenang user, it is still rather early for me to draw any conclusion, but such a scenario does loom in my mind.

What then could be done to improve the public transportation system in Malaysian urban areas in the most effective manner? In my opinion, the most effective method would be to open up the economy of the country and invite foreign transport services providers to invest in our country, either through the establishment of a subsidiary or through joint ventures with local companies.

In reading about the various claims that public transport is not sustainable by itself, I can't help but to think of the case of Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) of Hong Kong. For your information, the company is run for profit, operating a fleet of 4,300 buses over 420 routes.

The Singapore-based SBS Transit is another well managed multi-modal public transport company, deploying its 2,700 buses over 217 routes, and is profitable year after year.

The two companies emerged under very different circumstances; ours is yet another. To argue that ‘by plainly following their examples we will achieve success’ is fallacious. Instead, by opening up the economy for investment opportunities in public transport, foreign service providers would come with their capital and know-how, and compete with each other in reaping the greatest possible amount of profit.

This way, we do not have to worry about the lack of domestic capital and capability. The companies are responsible for their capital; they stand to bear the losses, but also the profits - no public money is at stake.

The country would benefit from the know-how they have imported and commuters would enjoy the lowest possible fare. The job of the government is very simple - stand aside, let the companies do their job, and ensure that the rule of law is observed. In short, it is best to create a competitive market, rather than a monopolistic one.

These are simple proposals but are obviously hard to implement. The reason is again simple. Under the current arrangement, who owns the public transport company? Who has the most to lose next to the biggest loser, the commuters?

Is it politically profitable to open up the public transport sector, given all the policies and promises in place?

Nevertheless, I hope that we could continue to argue, both for and against the opening up of the public transport sector, so that our fellow Malaysians would become more aware of the situation and make the most rational choices.

Finally, don't alter your lifestyle because someone tells you it's noble to do so - you should follow your self-interest and do not use public transport if it's going to inconvenience you!