Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Lessons from LA

In response to KJ John's Transportation lessons from LA (Malaysiakini subscription required).

Dear KJ John,

I like you, and probably ALL of Malaysia, am disappointed with the state of public transportation services in the country.

I write about public transportation issues in my blog, Here I discuss the shortcomings of the current system in the Klang Valley that we have in place, and how we can improve on it.

It is interesting that you talk about privatisation in public transportation. It is an issue that I think is one of the most serious and fundamental, yet least discussed.

Rapid KL and SPNB have been doing a MUCH BETTER job than the nexus of Intrakota and Cityliner. That I think we all have given credit. Still there is a long way to go.

But there still remains the many other so called OTHER transport operators. The rail ones being KTM Komuter, ERL and KL Monorail. The buses, SJ Bus, Triton, Metrobus, Selangor, Len Seng etc.

I think that there is plenty of room for integration and cooperation while still retaining these other operators.

One important step would be to introduce a new public transport regulator/authority for the Klang Valley, and following that remove all other regulatory powers held by the CVLB, local councils, SPNB and Rapid KL (with their quasi-regulatory powers), transport ministry etc.

This can be modelled in the likes of Singapore's Land Transport Authority, or Transport for London. Designate routes for operators, regulate safety standards, enforce integration, bringing in common ticketing systems, building and maintaining support services like tunnels, overhead bridges, bus stops, bus stations, large important train interchanges.

Currently, there is a problem of "who does what"? And them being territorial (DBKL - we only do bus maps for Kuala Lumpur). And the massive bureaucracy.

Touch 'n Go is actually a pseudo-common-ticket. But there are many problems with it, such as it not being available on the ERL, and the difficulty and cost of doing reloads, and the reliability issues of card readers at turnstiles.

There is also another major problem. I term this the problem of "starting fares". Hop on a train line and your first station would cost you anything from RM0.70 to RM1.20. That is pretty okay if you travel on one line to complete one journey. But if you require travel on at least two lines, you are double charged this "starting fare". And this is potentially a major disincentive for the use of rail travel. I have discussed this at my blog:

I also would like to see system-wide bus and train passes, working across all operators. But there are many complications, that I have discussed at

I don't think these OTHER operators need to be bought up to ensure integration - both physical and ticketing wise.

An example I always like to quote is that of London. Two different operators run the London Underground, yet most people don't really know about it. In fact they don't really care. Why? Because standards of service, livery, ticketing and other issues have been standardized. Bus routes are all issued competitively and are subject to pretty frequently put up for re-bidding.

How does London do that? Essentially, the Mayor of London, through Transport of London, contracts out the provision of these services to private companies. The 2 Underground operators and the many bus companies. The Mayor purchases these services from these separate companies in wholesale, but then redistributes, repackages and resells these services to the general public.

So ticketing, marketing, stations, quality standards, customer complaints, safety standards, and even the livery (the red buses!) - are all standardized and controlled by the Mayor.

This allows the Mayor to have close control in achieving certain social-political targets (universal service, round the clock service, discounts for senior citizens, subsidized routes), while unleashing the competitive powers of private enterprise that bid for the provision of these services.

Performance charts are published so often, showing how punctual and reliable services have been.

And how can we do this in KL?

Have the routes be put out to competitive tender and subject to bidding every so often. The lowest bidder will receive a fixed annual or periodic fee for the provision of these services subject to various perfomance indicators. Define clearly what services to be provided: i.e. how many bus runs a day, how often at what time, how big a bus, considerations for traffic congestion and roadworks. Have these performance indicators inspected and audited.

So although individual routes are run by monopolies, in effect they are not because the end customer doesn't make direct payment to this company and this route monopoly is subject to competitive bidding, so any monopoly behaviour (apart from pricing, which doesn't apply here anyway), such as offering unreliable service and compromising on safety would be subjected to fines from the regulator, or be disqualified from bidding in the next period.

At the employee level, pay-performance compensation structure for employees should be further improved, if not introduced. Bus drivers' pay should be proportionate to his performance i.e. with regards to how hard he has works, his safety awareness, his punctuality, the busy-ness of his routes etc.

This way, Metrobus, Len Seng, Triton and the likes can continue operating, subject to being able to compete for the tender, and also being able to fulfill the other requirements. (With standardized livery, hopefully in the future, we can have something like the iconic red buses in London! How about beige eh?)

The same can be applied for rail operators. Have Rapid KL pay a fixed periodic fee to KTM, ERL and KL Monorail to run their services, and in exchange Rapid KL take over all ticketing revenue and marketing while the individual operators continue with train operations and maintenance? But of course there will be differences, such as contracts have to be made much longer than in the case of buses, due to the heavy fixed cost investments and the immobility of capital across systems (unlike buses that can be quickly converted for use elsewhere much easily).

In a way, it's like the in-thing PFI that the government has been shouting about. But like everything else, it is not without its controrvesy. But it should be something to be explored, given the ability of it to allow more integration than currently available.

What a blog-whore I am.


Blogger suanie said...

but it's for a good cause, you're forgiven :Pbasdcvq

10:38 AM  
Anonymous ivan said...

may i know which bus should i take from puduraya to bukit damansara??im from ipoh.

11:09 PM  

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