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MRT Risks Repeating LRT Integration Screw-Ups, Say Residents

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By Lee Wei Lian and Mohani Niza

Publication: The Malaysian Insider

Date of publication: 24th February 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 — Residents in the capital have expressed dismay that the city’s already fragmented rail transit system could be exacerbated by a lack of integration and interchanges in the multi-billion ringgit MRT system.

The proposed MRT alignment does not include an interchange with the city’s main rail hub despite running alongside it, stops short of the Damansara town centre, and has planned a station located away from the 1Utama mall, bus hub and major car park area.

Lack of seamless integration has been by far the biggest criticism of the city’s existing transit system, prompting some to describe it as an embarrassment to KL which has aspirations to become one of the top 20 most livable and economically vibrant cities in the world.

Examples of integration failures include the Masjid Jamek interchange where commuters once had to exit the station and cross a busy road to change to another train line, and the Dang Wangi-Bukit Nenas “interchange” where commuters must exit the LRT station and walk about five minutes in order to change to the monorail line.

The system has also been widely panned for the lack of integration of train lines with malls, office buildings, bus hubs and other key destinations.

One example is lack of accessibility of the highly-popular MidValley City commercial complex from the LRT, despite the two being located only a short distance away from one another and built at about the same time.

The city’s monorail line has also been strongly criticised for stopping short of the KL Sentral rail hub, forcing commuters to make a 5-10 minute trek in order to change to the LRT, ERL or KTM Komuter trains.

Residents who spoke to The Malaysian Insider said that it is common sense to have seamless integration, and expressed fears that the MRT will repeat the same mistakes as the LRT system.

A resident of Kota Damansara who wanted to be known only as Goh, said the MRT planners should learn from the LRT’s mistakes and make the system as seamless as possible.

“Look at the Masjid Jamek station,” he sniffed. “You call that an interchange?”

Dhiva, 25, a help desk co-ordinator with a local mobile network operator and daily LRT user, said it made better sense to have a seamless interchange between the MRT and the LRT in KL Sentral rather than the planned MRT station located outside the hub which would force commuters to walk perhaps as much as 5-10 minutes just to change to the LRT.

“It’s a bit silly and a waste of public money to have the MRT station so far away,” he said. “It defeats the purpose of having a hub.”

A Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) source said the MRT’s KL Sentral station will be linked to KL Sentral by a 200m walkway, adding the MRT and LRT system interchange is at the Pasar Seni station, one stop away.

Tengku Nazira, who owns the La Cucur cafe in KL Sentral, said that while the MRT is a good initiative, it would be more convenient for commuters to have a well-connected interchange with the LRT.

“Is this the best that they could do?” she questioned.

Commuters with disabilities could also face challenges from a lack of integration.

A 1Utama outlet proprietor who lived in Hong Kong for years expressed frustration over the proposed location of the 1Utama station, saying that it is missing out on a great opportunity to create a smoothly-linked transport hub like those she once used in Hong Kong.

The current alignment places the station on a narrow strip of land between the TV3 office and the busy LDP highway, with limited space for future expansion.

The developer of 1Utama, See Hoy Chan Holdings, had previously suggested for the MRT station to be built underground as part of a transport hub and underground retail mall on the Western end of 1Utama, where there is ample space for building car parks and a growing bus hub serviced by Rapid KL buses as well as buses to the KLIA LCCT, Genting Highlands and Singapore.

The proprietor, who wanted to be known only as Tan, said it could be similar in concept to that in Hong Kong where the train stations are integrated with bus hubs.

She also said that it would be better to have the station integrated with the mall itself instead of its proposed location about a three-minute walk away.

“In Hong Kong, you exit the station and you’re in an office or a mall,” she said. “In Malaysia’s hot weather, who wants to walk outside if you can avoid it?”

Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) residents’ association president Mohd Hatim Abdullah had even more ambitious suggestions and said that a mega MRT station could be built underground at the western end of 1Utama, which could seamlessly link all the shopping malls in the vicinity.

“It can serve all the shopping complexes, (like) Ikano, The Curve, 1 Utama and Cineleisure,” he said.

The MRT station serving the Damansara town centre is also in a location that area resident Ben Loh described as “sub-optimal” as it is located amidst a tangle of highways and not in the town centre itself but about a three-minute walk away across what is now an open air car park.

The planned MRT station will also not be integrated into The Damansara City complex — one of the Economic Transformation Programme projects and which has been described as an integrated development — which is currently being built in the Damansara town centre.

Any lack of integration could have an economic dimension and affect the viability of the MRT if it results in lower ridership.

And if the government is planning to issue bonds to finance the MRT, low ridership might impact the ability to repay bond investors.

RAM Holdings chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng said the government has to ensure that the MRT meets ridership projections.

“The main thing is to have an integrated system,” he said. “There must be maximum ridership which is a factor in the system’s viability.”

In response to questions on the MRT’s integration sent via e-mail, SPAD said that public feedback gathered during the three-month-long public display of the MRT alignment would be considered.

“We encourage and welcome constructive feedback from the rakyat during this period,” said a SPAD spokesperson.

“All feedback will be thoroughly evaluated and presented to the government before the final decision on the proposed alignment and locations of the stations are adopted to make travelling on the Klang Valley rail network (including KTM KOMUTER and LRT) seamless and convenient for the rakyat.”