Moaz Yusuf Ahmad raises important questions about the RM50 billion MRT project, which is being rushed through hastily.
In one month, what have we learned about the Klang Valley MRT?
It has been approximately 1 year since MMC-Gamuda presented their unsolicited MRT proposal to the cabinet. More importantly, it has been one month since the public display for the Sg. Buloh – Kajang line of the Klang Valley MRT project began. In this past month, we have learned a great deal about the plans for the MRT – including the proposed route, station locations (including detailed drawings), station & train designs, and even the feeder bus system.
If we compare the amount of information for the MRT project with the LRT extensions – and one can do this easily by visiting both websites, kvmrt.com.my and lrtextension.com – we would see that the government and regulators have been far more open and shared more information about the MRT project than rail projects of the past. And judging by the number of letters, articles, and questions raised, it seems that Malaysians, especially residents of the Klang Valley, are certainly more interested in the MRT than they ever were for the LRT extensions.
Unfortunately, it is also clear to us that many of the questions that have been raised about the MRT project have not been answered well enough by the Land Public Transport Commission (LPTC or SPAD – the government regulator for the project) – or MMC-Gamuda (the Project Delivery Partner) and other government stakeholders.
One example is the question of why we need an MRT network. We are told that we need to have a rail network because, on the international & macroeconomic level, other cities in Asia have more kilometers of rail than we do. In other words, we need a rail network because other cities have a rail network and we need to expand our rail network because other cities are expanding their networks.
While this is certainly a legitimate argument, it is hard to avoid the idea that this ‘need’ may just because of ego – as if Malaysia needs to have an MRT network or the people of Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea and China will laugh at us. Or worse, we need shiny new MRT toys for the Klang Valley because other cities have shiny new MRT toys.
If we look at things regionally, we are told that millions more people will move to the Greater Klang Valley by 2020 and our roads will not be able to cope with the demand. Hence, we need an MRT network to move these people. The government through Pemandu have even made it clear that we need MRT lines with a carrying capacity of 40,000 passengers per hour per direction and that LRT, upgraded Komuter, Bus Rapid Transit, monorail, rapid trams, and even a reliable bus network are simply not good enough.
Without much more than a cursory look at the other options, the consultant responsible for the detailed Environmental Impact Assessment Report has stated that MRT, with its wider and longer trains, is far and away the best choice for the Klang Valley.
It seems that size does matter when it comes to public transport planning.
But let’s be realistic here – our current bus routes carry perhaps 1000 passengers per direction per hour. There is a huge gap between 1000 and 40000. Where will these 39000 passengers per direction per hour come from?
Another interesting detail is that the proposed Sg. Buloh – Kajang MRT has a theoretical maximum carrying capacity of 39,600 passengers per hour per direction. However, with only 58 trains the actual carrying capacity for the whole line will be closer to 20,000 passengers per hour per direction – putting our new MRT line squarely within the capacity ranges for LRT. In fact, to operate at an average capacity of 38000 passengers per hour per direction along the entire Sg. Buloh – Kajang line we would need nearly 100 trains.
In other words, the actual numbers for the MRT line do not match up with the expectations – and the expectations themselves do not seem to have any clear justification.
As we move down to a more local level, there are questions about the routing of the MRT and the location of particular stations. There are also questions about the interchanges, park & ride facilities, pick-up and drop-off lanes, and at the bottom of the list, the feeder bus network.
One common thread in these questions is about the integrated public transport network that the government is promising (and indeed, has been promising for decades). People are asking questions such as “how can we talk about an integrated public transport network but only introduce one line at a time?” as well as “how can we talk about an integrated public transport network without considering the integration?” and “how can we talk about an integrated transport network without talking about other modes of public transport?”
The reasons for this can be found in the laws that govern public transport – laws which are inadequate and wholly out of date – but that is a subject for another letter (coming soon, I promise).
Let me finish by saying this: Many people have argued that the rail network is necessary to serve as the “backbone” of the public transport system. Although this is a good analogy, they fail to understand the full implications of that “backbone”
The “backbone” exists to provide strength and protection to the central nervous system. The central nervous system exists because thousands of vital messages need to be moved from place to place in the body very quickly. But the backbone (indeed, the body itself) and the central nervous system cannot function properly without a strong, healthy nervous system to take messages all the way from the core, through the limbs and out to the extremities.
To finish the analogy, we can have a rail “backbone” but it is more important to have a complete and healthy public transport “nervous system” first. And we have a long way to go before that happens.
Moaz Yusuf Ahmad
Petaling Jaya, Selangor