With ARMAN AHMAD sitting in, consultant Goh Bok Yen and lecturer Moaz Yusuf Ahmad find common ground in their criticism of Kuala Lumpur's woefully inadequate public transport system.
Moaz: The government last week announced the latest projects aimed at improving traffic flow in Kuala Lumpur. These changes are meant to improve travelling for the people.
However, it seems like these changes were designed more for people with cars. The aim is to disperse traffic. But how about reducing the number of cars
Goh: Yes. It was said that the changes were to help the people travel but actually most of these changes were only designed with the car driver in mind.
Moaz: But how much effort has been put into reducing congestion? When are we going to stop?
In Pudu and Imbi, an interchange is being built. Billions have been spent and we still have congestion.
Goh: The trouble is when they do these projects, they are not looking at the macro level.
A good example is the Duta-Ulu Kelang Expressway (Duke) bypass that empties into the Middle Ring Road 2 which has reached saturation point.
The whole purpose was to disperse traffic but, by loading the MRR2, it causes traffic jams.
On paper the Duke looks beautiful but in reality every ingress or egress point is jammed... in Setapak, Sentul or Sentul Dalam. At every point on Duke there is a bottleneck.
The recent announcement is obviously not coordinated. It was a piecemeal effort. We have not seen an overall scheme yet.
Moaz: It is as if the whole idea is to push through all these projects that have been mentioned because people are paying attention right now.
Goh: There is very little transparency involved. For example they are talking about moving the Puduraya terminal to Tasik Selatan (the public transport hub which is being built to serve buses coming to the city from the south).
But they have also talked about transport hubs in Gombak (to serve buses from the east) and Sungai Buloh (north).
The whole problem is there is no master plan. We have deviated from being demand driven in catering to public transport needs.
We can't expect 30 per cent of the people to switch to public transport. (There have been plans to extend the LRT line to Subang Jaya and Petaling Jaya).
Look at the socio-economic profile. Subang Jaya and PJ are not easy areas to encourage public transport as they are high-income areas and you are competing with multiple-car owners.
This is not the case for the Sentul-KL, Kepong-KL and Gombak-KL routes. At present, the bus services in these areas account for more than 30 per cent of the city's transport volume.
Demand is already there and you can improve on quality. Concentrate where demand is already there instead of moving to Subang Jaya where you cannot compete.
The two LRT lines were planned without careful thought. The lines went along old railway lines to avoid land acquisition.
When run along the backyard, most of the stations are hidden. The whole orientation of the two lines is wrong.
Moaz: The traffic situation is quite bad. There are 1.3 million cars passing through MRR1 daily, and these figures are 10 years old. Now, there should be at least two million cars.
Goh: Actually the figure is about 2.2 million. These cars take a lot of road space and parking space.
If you live in Subang Jaya, you have to leave home at 6am to avoid congestion. There has been massive development along the Federal Highway.
In the city, the situation has already reached intolerable levels. With the number of cars increasing, we must have some form of restraint or policy on vehicles.
Some of the policies that the government may want to consider include introducing flexible work hours between 8am and 10am.
They should also consider increasing the parking rates during peak hours and giving reduced rates for those who park before 7am and after 9am. There are many measures which can be taken.
Now the number of parking bays, in relation to buildings, is increasing. For every 46.5 square metres of building space we now allocate one parking space. We have a situation now where 30 per cent of new building space is for parking bays.
By providing more car parks and interchanges, you are transferring the problem into the city centre. The policy plans seem to conflict with each other.
Moaz: Now the government wants to ban motorcycles.
Goh: That's another issue. We cannot run away from the fact that the average car driver is concerned about social status. It's part of our culture.
In some countries, the managing director of a big firm can take the public transport and nobody will give him a second look. We are far away from that kind of thinking.
What we are doing is wasting precious resources building expressways. Even if we build them, they will be jammed during the peak hours and no one is willing to pay to use them during off-peak hours. All this is happening because we did not plan our transport system in a coordinated manner.
If you look at Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2010, it does not look at the existing resources and study how to optimise them.
Moaz: Some people think the LRT is a solution to the problem. The new LRT lines sounds good and will cost billions of ringgit.
But it doesn't reflect where people want to go. There is no transparency in the decision making.
Syarikat Prasarana Negara Berhad (the public holding company which owns two LRT lines in Kuala Lumpur and several bus companies) is making plans but it doesn't want to tell the people.
Prasarana's plans do not match the transport plans that have been announced by the government.
Goh: The fixed track LRT is actually the most inflexible system. A lot can be done using stage buses.
Moaz: Many people look at the LRT as the best solution.
Goh: Our LRT system is not well balanced. As passenger demand increases, the station facilities cannot cope with it.
The government made a lot of mistakes. The route was not the most ideal and, when they began operations, they met only 20 per cent of the projected passenger load.
Today, we see that demand is huge for the service, as the area around the stations developed, but it is only during the peak hours.
We are currently transporting 10,000 people each hour in every direction. A well-planned mass rapid transit (like in Singapore) can transport up to 60,000 people. The lines that we built are very small and short in scale. Now they want to extend the line to Puchong, but at a cost of RM300 million per kilometre.
The question is (in the bigger scheme of things) whether this money should be spent in Kuala Lumpur to improve bus services within the city.
Moaz: There should be a focus on intra-city transport first before anything else.
Goh: RapidKL has made improvements. But it is still not good enough, although they are trying their best.
More thought has to be put into the bus lanes. The government may want to rethink placing the bus lanes in the centre or right hand side of the road, instead of on the left like now.
Moaz: We should also consider designing highways like the Duke to include bus lanes.
Goh: More consideration should be put into motorcycle lanes.
Riding on the road is dangerous, especially along stretches like Jalan Kuching where there is an accident almost daily.
We cannot avoid the fact that 30 per cent of motorists are motorcyclists. We have to look into safety and building dedicated lanes. We need reasonable rules and policies on road space.
Moaz: The recent idea of banning motorcycles in certain areas within the city doesn't make sense.
You are banning it for a social reason, which is the road thug problem. The motorcycle is not the problem.
A motorcycle takes much less space than a car. In fact, for every car, four motorcycles can travel on the road. Many cars entering the city are single occupant vehicles. Serious effort to reduce this has not been made.
In terms of parking, six or seven motorcycles can park in the space used up by one car. The motorcyclist in Malaysia is totally ignored.
Goh: The same thing can be said of other forms of transport. For example, in Kuala Lumpur, only Bangladeshi workers ride bicycles. Whether a person drives a car or not doesn't mean he's wealthy.
Moaz: It is quite incredible that Malaysians will buy a car no matter what. I was surprised to learn that many Malaysians earn RM3,000 or less per month but may spend up to RM1,000 to maintain and finance a car.
If you do not buy a car, that means you have RM1,000 more in your pocket every month.