The first mile/last mile of public transit

Stephen Ng

Modified 17 Jan 2017, 2:22 am

COMMENT I am excited about the commencement of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), BUT...

“BUT” is the same question that has been raised time and again. It appears to be at the lowest priority on our policymakers’ drawing board.

Through the years, I have seen that not much effort has been done to solve public transit’s first-mile/last-mile (FM/LM) problem. While billions of ringgit are spent on the infrastructure, without the connectivity, most people will never think of using public transport.

The implementation of FM/LM will therefore determine the success of any public transport system. Whether I would prefer to drive downtown or take the MRT depends on whether I can get to my destination on time and without too much hassle.

In fact, I have raised this matter time and again, but only a few people care to pay attention to the suggestion. When the idea is implemented, it encourages people to use public transport more than going behind the wheel.

I was a beneficiary of the shuttle service which provided the last mile solution between the train station and the National Cancer Institute in Putrajaya. Instead of driving some 60km every day to the hospital, I found it more convenient to take the trains, especially when I could find time to read a book or catch a nap.

Boost in number of students using KTM

This was my experience over a decade ago when I suggested starting a shuttle service from the KTM station to the college where I was working. This was after I made an attempt to check out our commuter train service on a Saturday morning.

On arrival at the station, there were only two options - a hopelessly inefficient bus system and the taxi driver who wants to charge an exorbitant fare.

The shuttle service started with just one small old van. They later added another van to increase the frequency, therefore shortening the waiting time. Subsequently, when the demand picked up, they added a 40-seater coach. The shuttle service managed to solve a number of problems.

First, it solved the last mile connectivity for hundreds of students. Secondly, it helped to solve the parking problems at the campus. And thirdly, parents did not have to fork out another RM30,000 to purchase a car. In fact, a parent who brought her daughter said she settled with the decision to enroll her at the college because there was public transport and she did not have to buy another car for the daughter.

Having an additional car in the family is a perennial problem for households, where sometimes, up to six or seven cars belonging to just one family may be parked in the neighbourhood.

With the shuttle service, the college had its vehicle running on the road every half-an-hour. This gave it higher visibility. It is a free advertisement! All adds up, everyone gains!

Revive the mini-buses

I have proposed that trains and 40-seater coaches should only run on longer routes, from one suburb to the depot in the city centre. From there, several forms of shuttle services should be provided.

Taxi drivers would benefit greatly if they are honest, since people would prefer to hop out of a train to get into a waiting taxi.

However, the problem is that not every taxi driver is honest. I have experienced it myself, when taxi drivers would negotiate for a different rate especially when they have many clients to choose from. If you do not agree, they would rather go for another client. Although there are law agencies to complain to, why is this problem still rampant?

There was one time when coming home from Singapore, and it was close to midnight, a taxi driver wanted to charge twice the amount I would have to pay for during the day. The taxi driver even had the cheek to tell me, “You don’t want; others want!”

Personally, I would prefer to take the electric train to Ipoh, if only the taxi drivers in Ipoh provide better services at reasonable rates.

It is the lack of integrity in the way they impose the charges that makes me decide to drive than to depend on public transport. I can understand if it is a smaller town, but in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, the service must not only be efficient but the fares should be reasonable.

In order to solve the last mile problem, shuttle service should be provided if we are serious about having an efficient public transport system.

In my opinion, it is time for the mini-buses to be revived. They can provide very efficient shuttle services to solve the FM/LM problem. Instead of the 40-seater coaches, it is better to have more mini buses providing the shuttle services within the city and suburbs.

In some countries like Thailand and the Philippines, the FM/LM is provided by the tuk-tuk, the tricycles, the jeepneys and motor-taxis! Although these are not the best solutions, they help people to get to their destination on time.

In Malaysia, I really hope that the mini-buses would be revived, but the drivers’ attitude and characters must be assessed before they are hired. When the mini-buses were taken off the streets, it was said that the bus company taking over their routes would be able to hire better drivers.

This is not always the case. In fact, since the mini-buses were removed, how many major transport companies have we seen come and go? As far as I can recall, we had Intrakota, then Park May, now RapidKL. Where are all the Intrakota buses, perhaps lying unused in the backyards somewhere?

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