Comment: Malaysia’s National Transport Policy

The government unveiled the National Transport Policy 2019-2030 on Thursday 17 October 2019, Malaysia’s first strategic plan for the transport sector

There has never been a greater need for a National Transport Policy. Our roads are so congested and parking so limited that driving is no longer a joy – and that’s coming from a motoring journalist.  It was for those reasons that last Friday I had gone to Mid Valley Megamall on public transport, for the first time ever.  Mid Valley Megamall opened over 20 years ago and I had worked there for four years. During that time, I never considered using public transport to get to work because it wasn’t reliable. Fortunately, my daily drive had been very easy, 20-25 minutes each way, via the Federal Highway. Also, I had a season parking pass while eased many ails. My only brush with public transport at Mid Valley was to take the KTM to KLCC via Sentral and I’d cursed the ineptness of KTM on both occasions.

The trip on Friday, by LRT to Abdullah Hukum station, was different because it was the day after the government had unveiled the National Transport Policy 2019-2030. Although I hadn’t read it at that time, I felt optimistic that public transport was finally getting the attention commuters deserved.

The Deputy Transport Minister, had stated without any intended irony that the National Transport Policy 2019-2030 was the first time Malaysia had a strategic plan for the transport sector. I highlighted that because it’s not a typo. In sixty-plus years of nationhood, the government has not given a formal thought to the transport system and most importantly, public transport. There had been several National Automotive Policies but nothing covering the needs of the non-motoring public. Was it any surprise then that our national railway, KTM, is a shambles, we have traffic jams that make our highways look like car parks, and some of the worst road fatality statistics in the world?

How did something so basic come to be overlooked by successive administrations, not least the one that espoused Vision 2020? The outrage of someone whose bread has been buttered by the existence of a substantial automotive market might seem a bit hypocritical but the National Transport Policy is not about the rice bowls of the few. At least, it shouldn’t be. Public transport is an essential part of developed communities, an efficient public transport system the backbone of any economy with aspirations to Developed status. The absence of choice, deeply unfair to everyone. Most importantly, a public transport system should be usable by the public and the lack of a decent system has hampered the economic progress of the whole country.

Having read the National Transport Plan, the excitement that getting around on public transport could now be easier, has faded. Most of the policy relates to industrial logistics. The plan lists a lot of “what’s wrong” with the public transport system but lacks exact measures to remedy the situation. It’s going to be as piecemeal as the poorly conceived and poorly connected systems that exists – if we’re lucky. If we’re unlucky, the only thought the government will give public transport was its mention in the National Transport Policy. A not unlikely scenario given talk of the third national car and flying cars.

There are so many things that need to be “fixed”, where does one even start? Malaysians are forced to have cars because travelling anywhere in Malaysia without a car is tortuously slow. Public transport routes are limited and even to major towns, there are few direct routes. In rural areas, the last 10 miles-connectivity is a problem. The sole, state-owned, almost-nationwide transport service, KTM, has been so neglected that it hasn’t served rural passenger traffic in any meaningful way in decades. As for coach services, there aren’t enough interstate/cross-border coach or bus services or routes especially during the festive seasons.

In the Klang Valley, the government needs to get tough with property developers. 1 Utama in Bandar Utama is probably the only shopping mall which has direct, covered access from the turnstile to the development. Then there’s Mid Valley City. How could the government have allowed a major shopping/office/hotel/residential hub with over 90,000 visitors a day to have been built without any reasonable pedestrian connection to the LRT station 250 metres away, across the Klang River? Or a KTM station with such erratic services, it’s faster to walk from Sentral to Mid Valley? Mid Valley City may be a major hub for middle-, upper-income visitors but the developer has been indifferent to the thousands of people who work there – and got away with it.

I had read in the newspapers a few days before my Mid Valley visit that an overhead bridge straddling the Klang River, linking Abdullah Hukum to the second floor of the Gardens would be opening soon but last Friday, it hadn’t yet. So, instead I used the existing route, walking from the LRT station 400-plus metres parallel to the river, down the road, to the pedestrian bridge. The route, once past the KL Eco City building line, had no pavements and no barriers between the foot traffic and the cars and, except for the pedestrian bridge, was completely unsheltered.

Fortunately, it wasn’t raining or I would have been stranded indefinitely at KL Eco City or soaked through by the time I reached the bridge. Before KL Eco City, it would have been a longer route, past the Abdullah Hukum flats. When the enclosed walkway finally opens later this month, Mid Valley City will finally be accessible by LRT, 20 years after the Mall first opened. How can anyone consider the lack of pedestrian link reasonable?

If the government cares about creating a reliable public transport system these are the basics which are sorely lacking:

  • Well-lit and properly maintained covered walkways with railings
  • Sheltered, ventilated bus stops with seats
  • Bus information, time tables and route maps at bus stops
  • Bus arrival alerts at bus stops
  • Compel building owners to build and maintain conveniently, intelligently located connecting walkways between their buildings and public transport services
  • More feeder buses and bus routes
  • Track feeder buses to ensure they’re actually running
  • Feeder buses that travel on linear, not circular, routes. Linear bus routes are more efficient than circular routes

Most importantly, the Minister for Transport has to be bold and willing to fend off the pro-automotive lobby or Malaysians will continue to be held to ransom by the few who benefit from it.

While I hope, I’m not holding my breath.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and not of the publication. If the author sounds sanctimonious, it’s from years of frustration built-up while stuck in traffic jams.