Friday October 12, 2012
All for efficient transportation
ROAMING BEYOND THE FENCE
By TUNKU 'ABIDIN MUHRIZ
A clean and efficient public transport system with long-term sustainability can bring huge benefits to the country’s economy.
A MAYOR of Bogota is reported to have said: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”
It’s a statement that rings true certainly in my own experience living in capitals of two developed countries.
For the six years that I lived and worked in London I did not ever drive a car, relying every day on walking or public transport: chiefly buses and the underground system (“the Tube”) but occasionally the refreshing river services as well, all using my Oyster (a la Touch ’n Go) card.
In the train tunnels, I was joined by millionaires, Members of Parliament, and Lords and Ladies who agreed that this was the most efficient way to travel in the city, even though they may have luxury cars for use in the countryside.
Certainly as a student, I only used the ubiquitous black cabs during a strike by Tube workers, when it was bitingly cold or when several of us shared the cost.
My next city of residence was Washington DC, where the system was more rudimentary but satisfactory, and the cabbies all seemed to be Ethiopian.
After I came back to Malaysia I did not have regular access to a car for two years, so I used public transport: usually a combination of the LRT and taxis, since LRT stations were often not within walking distance of the final destination (a perception augmented by a non-pedestrian culture fostered by the climate, a lack of good pavements and the fear of street crime).
I had in 1998 used the then-brand new STAR LRT to get to a summer internship for a month, but it was a different ballgame trying to get to meetings and events using our public transport infrastructure.
While the LRT was sometimes slow I found the trains not as packed as the Tube was. Rather, it was taxis that provided the most harrowing experiences.
Natalie Heng’s report “KL cabbies living up to ‘worst taxi drivers in the world’ reputation” (The Star, Oct , 7) certainly recalls some of the deficiencies I experienced, from overcharging, needlessly circuitous routes and flat refusals.
Perceived race also came into play on occasion, particularly as my own ethnic appearance is sometimes considered ambiguous.
The brutal testimonials of Malaysian taxi drivers come amidst their protests against the new Go-KL City Bus.
I checked it out myself this week: clean, lilac, Wi-Fi enabled and full of locals and tourists who might otherwise be in taxis. No wonder then that taxi drivers are complaining about loss of earnings.
Despite the lack of public sympathy, there is speculation that the Government may nonetheless cave in for political purposes. (The political involvement of cabbies is nothing new — when Tunku Abdul Rahman was District Officer in Sungai Petani, he supported taxi drivers opposed to an anti-competitive scheme requiring them to surrender their taxi licences to a company. The future Prime Minister’s recalcitrance saw him being promptly transferred to Kulim, en route to which dozens of taxis escorted him as a show of thanks.)
It is normal for any industry to resist the onset of competition, and the taxi drivers will have to adapt by improving their service, finding other routes and exploiting innovative mobile apps like MyTeksi.
However, there could be more competition and transparency within the Go-KL scheme itself: for example, it seems only one company (which is wholly Government owned) enjoys the right to supply all the buses (and for how long?).
Furthermore it must be asked what is the role of the Transport Ministry in initiatives like this — SPAD, like various emanations of the Prime Minister’s Department in relation to other ministries, seems to be running the shots entirely (though if KL had an elected mayor with responsibility for transport the lines of accountability would be clearer), and there is an allegation that the scheme was copied from a scheme up north.
And even if the system is clean and efficient now, there is the test of long-term sustainability.
If it does prove sustainable, and is enlarged as promised with intelligent links to LRT stations, then the benefits to our economy will be huge, with increased access to job opportunities and quicker journey times.
I, too, may become an enthusiastic user. For while nowadays I do have regular access to a car, when sitting in rush-hour traffic on Jalan Sultan Ismail, I would rather be on a train that gets me to my destination in 10 minutes rather than 45 — and I am sure many other car enthusiasts would agree with me.
> Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz is president of Ideas