Malaysiakini NEWS

Revisiting Mahathir's flawed transport record

Kua Kia Soong  |  Published:  |  Modified:

COMMENT | Now that Dr Mahathir Mohamad is the chairman of Pakatan Harapan, his former critics who are now his allies seem to be mouthing sweet nothings into his ears while ignorant sycophants are even calling him the "father of Malaysian public transport"!

Really? Concerned Malaysian historians need to start telling it like it is. Allow me to remind the country of the litany of woes we have suffered under Mahathir, especially the decades of traffic jams while fighting for a good public transport system in our country.

Malaysia is supposed to be on the final leg of the sprint toward attaining high-income status in 2020 only to be reminded by the World Bank that it is time for us to get serious about developing a more integrated urban transport system in our major cities. Today, Penang, Johor Baru, and Kota Kinabalu are facing similar challenges as those in Kuala Lumpur, says the World Bank. Only 17 percent of commuters in Kuala Lumpur use public transport compared with 62 percent in Singapore and 89 percent in Hong Kong. Residents of Greater Kuala Lumpur spend more than 250 million hours a year stuck in traffic. The total cost of traffic in Greater Kuala Lumpur is estimated at 1.1 to 2.2 percent of GDP in 2014 (World Bank).

Failed opportunities

The quality of public transport continued to worsen as the non-accountable (non-elected) municipal councils and the property and motor industry barons had their day. More than enough taxpayers’ money had already been spent on endless studies of the transport problem. When the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) was contracted to undertake the Kuala Lumpur Transport Master Plan in 1997, it was the eighth such study since 1963! (The Sun, 20-8-97).

“This study was clearly biased towards capital-intensive road building projects. Policies toward encouraging the use of public transport and the restraining of private transport use during peak hours were noticeably absent.” (ibid)

Subsequent plans did call for a total transport plan, including adequate public transport services but somehow, the political will was absent. In 1990, Japan’s Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund warned that Malaysia faced critical bottlenecks in its infrastructure if nothing was done to reform our transport system (Far Eastern Economic Review, 5-4-1990). By the mid-1990s, there was still no national transport policy in Malaysia.

As early as 1992, a Kuala Lumpur Transport Blueprint was drafted by an offshoot of KTM, Relk, and a Canadian transport firm, Delcan. Its aim was to create an integrated bus-rail transport system for Kuala Lumpur by 1996. The plan involved harnessing an existing network of barely used railway tracks that criss-cross the inner city; foreign-designed rail cars and buses would be assembled in Malaysia and it would all cost a modest RM2 billion. The plan also involved including commercial outlets in the new rail stations that would produce profits to defray construction costs (Doug Tsuruoka, FEER 29.10.92:68). Like the other plans, this blueprint never saw the light of day...

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