Stuck in KL traffic jams – but I didn’t need a car in Stockholm

A traffic jam in KL - at 10.30pm - Photograph: Benedict Lopez/Aliran

Benedict Lopez explains why he didn’t need a car to get around in the Swedish capital.

Traffic jams in Kuala Lumpur will continue to be a perennial problem unless the public transport system in the city is improved.

The light rail transit, Star, monorail and commuter rail services have done a good job in reducing traffic congestion in the city, but more needs to be done.

The Rapid KL feeder bus services are poor. The other day, when I arrived at the Bangsar LRT station at 8pm, I immediately walked downstairs along with others to catch the feeder bus. But much to our dismay, we had to wait more than half an hour for the Rapid KL bus.

This long wait was appalling – especially when commuters were most eager to get back home after a tiring day at work.

Rapid KL can afford to adopt a lackadaisical attitude as they have a monopoly of this and all other routes in the city. If Rapid KL cannot buck up, it is time for the government to issue more licences to other bus companies to ply the routes which are now being dominated by the federally owned bus company. Healthy competition leads to enhanced efficiency and consequently better services by bus operators. In the long run, commuters are the ultimate beneficiaries.

In fact, the government should encourage and issue licences to three-wheel autos or tuk tuk, as they call them in Thailand, to ply the routes from LRT stations to residential areas. It will not only be cheaper but more efficient than the normal bus services.

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In the 1960s, when I lived in the Cochrane Road government quarters, the Tong Foong buses plied the routes near our home every few minutes. It was so easy and convenient to take a bus those days.

In a city like Stockholm, bus stops are located adjacent to the train stations and the city’s red and blue buses ply the routes every few minutes. These buses are long, with either two or three entrance and exit doors, and the routes crisscross the city. The middle portion of the bus is an empty space reserved for anyone who embarks with a baby on a pram, and it is free of charge.

The bus drivers exercise utmost care and caution, constantly looking back to see if all the passengers are on board before continuing the journey. When the bus stops at a station, the exit door opens, and it is always adjacent and parallel to the bus stand, in contrast with our buses where the exit door is about a foot above the road, making it precarious for senior citizens, people with disabilities and expectant mothers to alight.

A commuter can buy a monthly pass, the Access Card, which gives the commuter unlimited travel on trains, buses, commuters, ferries and trams. When I left Stockholm in July 2014, a monthly Access Card cost only SEK790 (RM350), which I thought was a bargain. It was precisely for this reason I did not own a car during my four-and-a-half-year stint in the city. It made no sense to me to own a car when public transport was so efficient.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke should look into this matter as it will go a long way towards alleviating traffic jams in the city. The minister should get the mandarins in his ministry to draw up plans to reduce the city’s recurring traffic bottlenecks. Emulating a city like Stockholm would be a good idea.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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simon tan
2 Oct 2019 2.38am

public transport in Penang and KL are an orphan with many uncles but no real father. Different agencies control different aspects of public transport.

1) Licensing comes under the Land Public Transport Agency (Apad) under the Ministry of Transport
2) Bus stops are controlled by Local Councils
3) Roads, markings, crossing and traffic lights are the responsibility of developers, the city council or the Public Works Department depending on particular circumstances
4) Buses are owned and operated by Rapid Penang or KL, which is under Prasarana and the Ministry of Finance.

8 Oct 2018 1.50pm

BTW. I didn’t need to have a car in Singapore, Vancouver or Manchester either and many civil servants, MPs and government ministers today have experienced having to use such public transit systems in the UK, US and other advanced countries during their student days but it appears that they have not contributed their experience of such systems towards developing a world-class public transit system in the major cities and towns of Malaysia.

simon tan
2 Oct 2019 12.10pm
Reply to  IT.Scheiss

Dear Scheiss,
Thanks for your many feedback here. May i suggest that you compile and summarise your comments into an article for wider circulation and another point of view as many readers don’t scroll down to comments section.

8 Oct 2018 1.28pm

From your brief biography I see you are quite likely qualified in economics and experienced in high government positions in the same discipline, whilst I am qualified in electronics engineering with practical experience in computers.

Admittedly I have no formal experience nor qualification in city planning nor public transit systems but only speak from personal experience of using such systems both overseas and in Malaysia.

As for your goodself, your article above also speaks from your personal experience of public transit systems in Stockholm and other advanced countries.

Are you formally qualified or experienced in any way in public transit systems, even if from an economic planning perspective?

If you are, please share.

8 Oct 2018 12.16pm

I have argued in favour of well run state or city owned and operated public transit systems over your idea for privatised ones. What is your reply to my contribution to this discourse?

There was an organisation, the Association for the Improvement of Mass-Transit (Transit) some years back in which En. Moaz Yusof Ahmad was a vocal spokesman who engaged SPAD and other relevant government agencies, I believe with some positive results. Here are some legacy articles by Moaz on Malaysiakini.

You and I will only be engaging in NATO by highlighting such issues here, instead of engaging with the relevant authorities.

6 Oct 2018 12.04am

My mentioning the bus systems in Manchester and Vancouver are not “irrelevant”, as you claim as they, especially Vancouver’s from 1992 to 1994, are examples of the kind of world class integrated public transit systems we should have in Malaysia, especially the Klang Valley where I live. The provincial government transit operator BC Transit owned and operated the buses, the Skytrain LRT and the Seabus catamaran ferry between Vancouver and North Vancouver across the Georgia Strait and these three were part of Greater Vancouver’s integrated public transit system and state-owned Prasarana’s Rapid KL is similar to BC Transit, whilst the computer-driven LRT trains on the Kelana Line are larger models of rolling stock from Canada’s Bombardier. When LRT services in the Klang Valley began running in the late 1990s, once private consortium operated the STAR LRT line using AEG rolling stock from Germany, whilst another private consortium operated the Putra LRT between Gombak and Kelana Jaya and used Bombardier rolling stock from Canada. The KL Monorail, originally privately owned and operated by MTrans in Rawang, began operation on 31 August 2003 used rolling stock based upon… Read more »

5 Oct 2018 10.45pm

I remember Jln Cochrane pretty well, and the bus which rammed into one of the government quarters though can’t remember if it was on Jln Cochrane. I lived with my parents in a government quarters on Jln. Kg. Pandan from 1963 to 1966 and used to bicycle along the roads between Jln Kg. Pandan and Jln Peel, and I visited the home of my classmate on Jln. Mentri regularly. Two brothers Ah Peng and Ah Chong ran a sundry shop on the land by the junction of Lrg. Jarret 1 and Jln. Nakhoda Yusof where the My Town Shopping Centre is now, though being regarded as “squatters” or TOL holders, they later were ordered by the authorities to vacate their spot and they moved their shop further down the road. They had a pit latrine comprised of a half oil drum sunk into the ground, and one day, needing fertiliser for my plants, a dipped an enamelled metal bucket into their latrine and carried the “fertiliser” home along Lrg. Jarret 1and over the vacant land back to my home where I poured it onto the vegetable… Read more »

5 Oct 2018 10.20pm

Then why does the caption to the photo read:- “A traffic jam in KL – at 10.30pm – Photograph: Benedict Lopez/Aliran” and the title reads: “Stuck in KL traffic jams – but I didn’t need a car in Stockholm: Why bring up traffic jams then, when your article is about bus and urban rail services. As for:- “Tong Foong used to ply the routes around the government quarters adjacent to Cochrane Road while Sri Jaya used to ply the routes along the government quarters in the Imbi Road and Bukit Bintang area. Other bus companies like Len used to ply the routes along Ipoh Road. So there was no monopoly by any one company. Now its only Rapid KL and I always encounter delays.” My point is that each of these bus companies in effect had a monopoly in the areas which they were allocated to serve, so if you lived on Jalan Cochrane or the surrounding roads, you had no choice but to ride on Tong Foong and if you wanted a different bus line, you would have to move house. Anyway, most bus (and… Read more »

3 Oct 2018 10.13am

With regards the chronic problem of horrendous traffic jams in the Klang Valley, especially during peak periods, Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL’s) Integrated Transportation Information System (ITIS) has been in operation since December 2005, providing motorists with real time or near real time information online of traffic conditions on various major roads within the Klang Valley, so as to enable motorists to plan their journey and route to avoid traffic congestion. However, despite all the data on traffic conditions, such as the locations of the areas of traffic congestion, apparently nothing has been done to rectify the physical factors on the ground which cause these bottlenecks and to improve traffic flow, such as the widening of ingress and access roads onto and out of highways, the widening of roads where congestion occurs, better traffic planning and so forth. For example, the traffic congestion where the SPRINT Kerinchi Link joins the Federal Highway, especially for traffic heading towards Kuala Lumpur, the KL-Seremban Highway or towards Cheras; then the congestion by Linkaran Syed Putra where there is a jam of cars trying to exit the Federal Highway to… Read more »

3 Oct 2018 1.24am

C’mon! Private bus line operators such as Tong Foong, Len, Foh Hup, Selangor, Sri Jaya and so forth were allocated specific routes. For example, Tong Foong exclusively plied routes such as the Jalan Pudu, Jalan Cochrane, Jalan Nakhoda Yusof, Jalan Peel, Jalan Pasar and if I recall right also Jalan Kampung Pandan, so it had a monopoly of these routes and if you wanted to ride on an alternative bus service, you would have to move house to an area served by your choice of bus company. Stockholm’s public transit system comprises bus, metro, regional/suburban rail, light rail, tram and boat, with bus and rail owned by the Stockholm County Council which outsources their maintenance and operation to private of city council owned comapnies, with transit fares manage by the city council. Were the bus drivers of Tong Foong and any of the other private bus operators a professional as the bus drivers in Stockholm and were the buses of the same standard as in Stockholm, were they as punctual and was the transport system back then as well integrated as Stockholm’s? I lived in… Read more »