Sunday, 16 July 2017

(NST) MRT launch: Vital link to nation's growth

THE opening of the Sungai Buloh-Kajang mass rapid transit (MRT) line caps another milestone in Kuala Lumpur’s rapid modernisation into a city that Malaysians can be proud of.

Together with other proposed large intra- and inter-city rail projects, such as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail and the East Coast Rail Line, it will shift the country’s landscape of moving people from a private to public transport-driven system, said Dr Yeah Kim Leng, a professor of economics at Sunway University Business School.

“The immediate impact of this large-scale investment can be felt — spurring of construction activities, spending on materials, employment of Malaysians, especially in managerial, technical and supervisory functions, and other multiplier effects through sub-contracting services and supplies.

“The large and long-term socio-economic impact will be generated indirectly through increasing the efficiency of the country’s transport system, and its contribution towards a dynamic and competitive environment.”

Yeah said an efficient public transport system would reduce travel cost, alleviate congestion and reduce pollution by vehicles on the roads.

“By shifting more people to use public transport, it will create a smaller carbon footprint and make the city green, sustainable and liveable.

“An efficient and environment-friendly transport system has become an integral part of an efficient and competitive economy.

“It is necessary to cope with rapid urbanisation and the accompanying rural-to-urban population shift.

“More importantly, an efficient transport system will cap the rise in the country’s energy consumption and reduce its vulnerability to oil price shocks.”

Although not sufficient by itself, Yeah said an efficient transport system was a necessary condition for economic growth as exemplified by thriving mega cities, including Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta.

“Nowadays, competition for local and foreign investments, and attracting global multi-national companies is not between countries, but cities.

“It is crucial for KL and the state capitals to continuously upgrade their transport infrastructure as an integral part of the overall strategy to attract local and foreign investments,” he said.

For commuters, besides the cost savings, there was also the convenience of travelling and reduced stress of being caught in traffic snarls.

“With greater ease and certainty in scheduling and commuting, there is also the indirect and long-term economic benefits of a more productive workforce.

“The ability to commute easily and cheaply over longer distances would enable people to live further from their workplace. Another indirect spillover is the appreciation of land and property value along the MRT route,” he said.

Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd chief economist Dr Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid said it was typical for developed countries and metropolises to embrace various modes of transport rather than rely solely on private vehicles.

“Malaysia is moving towards such a direction, where the adoption of public transport has become the mainstream for people to be mobile. The existing infrastructure is somewhat congested, especially during peak hours.

“In some ways, Malaysians have become accustomed to rail-related infrastructure and it has become part of their lives for a daily commute.

“Therefore, the investment in such infrastructure is paramount in order to improve connectivity and efficiencies, which would lead to better productivity gains.

“Better connectivity would also allow employees to commute from a long distance, such as those who reside in Seremban and Melaka.

“This will improve the living standards in those states following the high income earned by employees in cities.”

He said each infrastructure would require skilled workers to perform maintenance, which should bode well for Malaysia as the country had a vast number of technical and vocational education and training graduates.

Since urban folk can now stay in the outskirts following improvements in the public transport infrastructure, it will result in higher property demand from high-income earners.

He said last year, the median salary for Kuala Lumpur employees stood at RM2,500 per month compared with RM1,870 in Negri Sembilan and RM1,680 in Melaka.

“To some extent, it could also pose population challenges as property prices will rise steeply, affecting the locals.

“Therefore, the government needs to play an active role to ensure that such negative externalities can be managed.”

Efficiencies and better connectivity of transport systems were an essential part in making a great country, he added.