Friday, 14 July 2017

(The Star) Come, let’s ride the MRT

With only a few days to the scheduled opening of the MRT line 1, I cannot help but reflect on the journey we have taken to reach this milestone of our nation’s urban public transport landscape.

When Malaysia embarked on its transformation journey in 2009 by launching the bold and ambitious National Transformation Programme (NTP), many were sceptical about whether the Government would keep its promises.

Many were also hopeful and supportive. Many chose to be constructive and collaborative. And through these conscious collaborative efforts aimed at fast-tracking the country to becoming a high-income nation, the programme created a number of high-impact projects to focus better on Malaysia’s overall socio-economic direction.

The Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit system is such a project.

With more than 10 years since our last major upgrade of the transportation network (launch of LRT and monorail systems in the mid-1990s), the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley (Greater KL/KV) conurbation was in need of a catalyst/game-changer to improve and sustain the public amenities, continuous growth, competitiveness and livability of this city.

The MRT solution

Considered the backbone of the integrated public transport network for the Greater KL/KV, the MRT system is one of the first major transport infrastructure projects created to provide better reach for commuters and integrate existing rail networks in the region.

With three lines in total – the MRT line 1 will run from Sungai Buloh-Kajang and has a total length of 51km. Line 2, on the other hand, will serve a corridor with a population of around two million, from Sungai Buloh to Serdang to Putrajaya (SSP line). Lastly, line 3 will play a crucial role in integrating all existing rail lines in Greater KL/KV through a circle line. This line is currently under the development and at the planning stage.

Undeterred by challenges

Since construction began on July 8, 2011, the implementation of the MRT line 1 has faced its fair share of criticism, with questions ranging from costs and purpose to the feasibility of the project.

Resolute in overcoming the scepticism, the Transport Ministry, Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), project owner Prasarana Malaysia Bhd and project delivery partner MMC-Gamuda have worked closely to ensure the project is completed on time and within budget.

Despite initial speed bumps, Phase 1 of the MRT line 1 from Sungai Buloh to Semantan began operations on Dec 16 last year, 16 days ahead of schedule, while registering a savings of RM2bil from the initial target cost of RM23bil. With the launch of the second phase this coming Monday, the entire 51km MRT line 1 is on track to be completed as scheduled.

Easing congestion, mobilising people

As Greater KL/KV residents, we are not strangers to the frustration and inconvenience brought on by traffic congestion. According to a study by the World Bank in 2015, Malaysians have been spending 250 million hours a year stuck in traffic. Imagine the quality time you could have spent for yourself and your family.

The first order of the day for the MRT is to create better mobility for the residents in the Greater KL/KV region, complemented by the various public feeder services and facilities.

With a total capacity of 1,200 passengers, the MRT line 1 is strategically positioned to serve high-density housing and fast-growing areas such as Kota Damansara, Bandar Utama, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Batu Sebelas Cheras, Bandar Tun Hussein Onn, Kajang, etc.

It is projected to serve a daily ridership of 400,000 and will take about 160,000 cars off the road, resulting in higher productivity gains and better quality of life.

According to the chief executive officer of MRT Corp, Datuk Seri Shahril Mokhtar, productivity is expected to increase to 280 million hours annually with the MRT. This translates to about RM20bil per annum in time savings.

Additionally, MRT will help reduce environmental pollution in the country. In a study conducted by the United Nations University, the MRT lines 1 and 2 are expected to deduct more than 550,000 trips or 5.6 million km tra­velled on city roads by private vehicles. This is the equivalent of 227,800 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year in emissions avoided, making MRT the single largest green infrastructure project in Malaysia.

Making the MRT accessible

Despite the benefits that the MRT will bring about, we are equally aware that the project can only succeed if there is a solid “nerve system” in place. To this end, the Government has focused on enhancing the first- and last-mile connectivity, a move to ensure sufficient transportation is available for commuters to travel to and from their homes to public transportation hubs.

The MRT feeder bus is one such solution. The fare is set at only RM1, and there are currently 26 routes serving 12 stations of the first phase of MRT line 1. An additional 22 routes will be introduced when all the MRT line 1 stations begin operations next week. In total, 300 dedicated feeder buses will be deployed to serve the 400,000 commuters.

The overall access to the MRT line 1 will be complemented with the Taxi Industry Transformation Programme (TITP). Introduced in August 2016, the TITP has so far made great strides in regulating the taxi industry, as well as the e-hailing service providers. The move was done to provide better safety and value for passengers.

While the Government continues to invest time and resources in building a world-class infrastructure and network, the ultimate success of the MRT will be dependent on our personal choices.

Living in the tropics, our pedestrian lifestyle may not mirror that of our European counterparts who walk or cycle more than our weather permits us to. Often, walking and cycling are regarded as recreational, but they are a form of commute for many abroad.

The idea of our public transport system is not to immediately replace our personal vehicles but to provide an alternative commute which would promote a greener future for our environment, alleviate traffic congestion and save on our parking expenses.

Certainly, this would be a goal we should strive for when commuting to and within our central business district. So, let’s start embracing this important early milestone of our pu­blic transportation. Jom naik MRT!
Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai is the Transport Minister and MCA president. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.