By Azizul Ahmad
KUALA LUMPUR, April 28 (Bernama) -- It has been an eventful period for the transportation sector in the last one year with new initiatives showing positive results, but the sector has still some way to go for it to be efficient and effective as more needs to be done by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government to make this a reality.
In terms of efforts at saving costs and streamlining organisations or systems to better integrate the nation’s public transportation system, PH gets the thumbs up.
The coalition, which won the May 9 general election last year, has tackled several issues on different modes of transport with some of the mega projects being either stopped, deferred or renegotiated while others have been given the go-ahead.
The most notable mega project -- the RM65.5 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) -- was suspended for renegotiation as part of Putrajaya's bid to rein in its debt.
Tun Daim Zainuddin, who is also the chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), was asked by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to drag Beijing back to the negotiating table to cut the cost of the investment projects assigned to Chinese contractors.
Daim, after nine months of negotiations, succeeded in renegotiating a supplementary agreement for the ECRL with a considerably lower price tag of RM44 billion, down 32.8 per cent or RM21.5 billion from its old price.
With the new price tag, the construction cost for the project, which is vital to spur the Malaysian economy especially in the east coast of the peninsula, and an added confidence boost for the country’s construction industry, is now at RM68 million per km for the realigned route, against RM98 million per km originally.
“The Pakatan Harapan government is more careful with its expenditure," said the former finance minister, who has represented the country in numerous negotiations since 1981.
Daim in a recent exclusive interview with Bernama also expressed confidence that the price tag for the ECRL is highly likely to come down even further.
He said this is possible once rail construction experts in both Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd and China Communications Construction Company Ltd sit down to work out the technical details of the mammoth infrastructure project.
“What we have now with the new ECRL deal is one that is transparent, accountable and trustworthy with the full facts and figures available for public knowledge,” said Daim.
On the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail (HSR) project, Malaysia is now looking into ways to further cut the cost, and will be discussing this further with Singapore before the end of the suspension period on May 31, 2020.
Meanwhile, other major Klang Valley rail projects that will boost rail services, namely the Light Rail Transit 3 (LRT3) and Mass Rapid Transit 2 (MRT 2) projects, were also given the go-ahead and are scheduled for completion by February 2024 (LRT3) and July 2021 (MRT2).
Major readjustments to make sure they are reasonably priced were made which resulted in cost savings, including the LRT 3 with savings of 47 per cent or RM16.6 billion from the original cost, as well as cutting significant fat from the MRT 2 project, where the government saved 22 per cent or RM8.8 billion of the construction cost -- not including interest, land acquisition and other costs.
The MRT 3 project, meanwhile, has also been put on ice but may be revisited if the country's finances improve.
The PH government, while admitting that the MRT 3 project would bring various benefits to the rakyat, has reportedly said its implementation should be reviewed in view of the excessively high national debts at present.
Meanwhile, Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd chief economist Dr Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid said it is too early to tell whether there has been a significant improvement in rail services since PH took control of the federal government on May 9, 2018.
"The KL Monorail ridership has dwindled from 25.1 million passengers in 2015 to 12.6 million in 2018.
"Obviously the monorail needs an urgent capacity upgrade in order to improve the connectivity especially when MRT 1 has been operational," he told Bernama.
Afzanizam said the deployment of four-car train monorail sets is very critical to cater to the high demand during peak hours, noting that the Ministry of Transport (MOT) has been working on this.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook said to encourage the use of public transport, thus helping to reduce road congestion, the government will give priority to various types of buses that will be upgraded in terms of service quality and network, as well as improving the KTM Komuter system in the Klang Valley via upgrading and repairing of the railway infrastructure.
The MOT had in December last year introduced an unlimited access card for public transport, a monthly pass programme, to encourage more people to use the MRT as well as feeder bus services.
The My100 and My50 passes offer commuters unlimited rides on Rapid KL rail, including the LRT, MRT, Monorail and bus network, for 30 consecutive days.
The PH government also talked about abolishing toll collections. It said it will review all highway concession agreements in a bid to abolish tolls in stages.
In its manifesto, PH also said it will stabilise the price of petrol and introduce targeted petrol subsidies, and is currently looking at various mechanisms.
The introduction of the Sales and Services Tax (SST) as a single tax on original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) compared to the multiple stage tax in the GST has led to some savings and reduction in prices especially for completely-knocked down (CKD) cars.
The government is expected to unveil the revised National Automotive Policy (NAP) in the second quarter of 2019, which will include various measures to enhance the competitiveness of the industry through future technological trends.
Meanwhile, agencies with duplicate roles have been disbanded in line with measures to cut government spending.
The Land Public Transport Agency (APAD), a full-fledged department under the MOT, has been created, taking over most of the functions of the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), while the Malaysian Aviation Commission’s (Mavcom) role is being reviewed.
For the Pan Borneo Highway, the government is taking over the implementation of the Sabah portion of the highway, with the Sabah Public Works Department director put in charge as the project director.
The works ministry reportedly said the cabinet had decided to implement the project conventionally, in line with the government’s effort to optimise the cost of projects that have high financial implications for the country.
So much has happened in one year, yet more needs to be done by the PH government for the country's transportation sector, especially in promoting seamless passenger movement and efficient last-mile connectivity.
Malaysia's rail-based ridership modal share, currently at around 25 per cent, is targeted to achieve 40 per cent by 2030, as set by the National Land Public Transport Master Plan in October 2013.
Challenges to meet the target need to be addressed continuously by the government as it needs to improve public perception of the national transport system to attract more commuters and ridership.
Reliable, integrated transport networks, a sustainable system and efficient last-mile connectivity are essential for a successful public transportation service, and these are the challenges the PH government must address, moving forward.
But success in improving the ridership modal share would also depend on factors beyond the MOT’s control, such as where target users live. Here, the concept of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) can help, but it depends on the capability of other ministries and authorities, such as the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT), the Federal Territories (FT) Ministry, and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL).
A successful TOD with affordable housing requires land near the nucleus and nodes of the transportation service, especially rail and transit stations.
This begs the question. Do our major affordable housing players – PR1MA Corporation (for the 1Malaysia People's Housing scheme), Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd which is now under the purview of the KPKT, and the FT Ministry (for the Residensi Wilayah, formerly known as FT Affordable Housing Project or Rumawip) -- have land near the stations?
Meanwhile, the revived Bandar Malaysia project, with 10,000 units of affordable homes to be built in it, will be a trailblazer in urban planning, being a TOD that is set to facilitate and incentivise the use of public transport over private vehicles.