Public transport ideas must make sense

WITH the launch of Pakatan Harapan's manifesto, there seems to be a disconnect between what the coalition wants in terms of public transport.

On one hand, they are suggesting some interesting developments such as increasing accessibility and connectivity to rail lines, increasing cooperation with small bus companies and school bus companies, even promising to provide an additional 10,000 buses.

This is on top of the suggestion to introduce an RM100 monthly unlimited pass for rail links – which I'm hoping excludes the ETS trains.

However, on the other hand, they are promising some really bad ideas to help the automotive sector. One is an exemption from excise duties for the first family car for households earning below RM8,000.

For another, there is this promise of petrol subsidies for cars under 1300cc. And on top of all this, the end of toll payments for all highways in phases.

Permit me to say this – these policies in the manifesto go against any move to encourage public transport. The way to make public transport more viable is to increase the cost of driving, which means introducing a congestion charge for city centres.

On top of that, you are supposed to stop making petrol cheaper, especially in the Greater Klang Valley. This was even argued by Prof Jomo Kwame Sundaram when Pakatan launched their shadow budget last year.

Instead, you are supposed to be taxing petrol and using that revenue stream to buy your 10,000 buses and even increase the number of trains. You are supposed to make cars more expensive to make people consider driving a privilege and no longer a necessity.

Logically and rationally, let me ask this – what is the point of having 10,000 buses on the roads, if the roads are jammed with cheap cars running on subsidised petrol? It won't help. The roads are even jammed up now without the incentives to make cars cheaper.

Traffic is traffic, and unless Pakatan proposes building Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems which reserve a lane on roads for buses, all we will have are buses further delayed and stuck, making it unfeasible for people to switch to public transport.

Sadly, there isn't a mention of the implementation of BRTs in the Pakatan manifesto. At the same time, some questions arise when it comes to management of public transport.

This is due to the coalition promising to devolve federal powers to local city councils – and this would include giving local councils power over public transport. And thus, how will this work since the current networks are managed mostly by Prasarana Negara Bhd's RapidKL?

Will we be seeing the public transport company broken up to serve each local council? Does this mean that the Shah Alam City Council will manage its own stations, while Kuala Lumpur City Hall manages its stations separately?

Does the revenue from buses and trains then go back to each city council? Do future projects such as the LRT3 and even the MRT Line 2 have to be renegotiated to include some form of profit sharing and change in ownership with the local councils?

Do bus routes now have to be undone and controlled by local councils as well, and how would you manage intercity and intracity travel from any city in Selangor into Kuala Lumpur now under RapidKL?

Will there be a 50-50 profit share on advertising revenue of each station between Prasarana and the local councils?

Similarly, with RM100 for a monthly unlimited public transport pass, how much revenue would Prasarana lose? Has Pakatan calculated a rough amount of how much this will cost?

And after all the brickbats Pakatan had for Prasarana and MRTCorp not making a profit, does this policy mean they are all right with the two transport companies going further into the red?

I would like to know an answer for this, since Pakatan has a history of whacking public transport projects as unfeasible, increasing national debt and being unaffordable. Thus, is their solution to make it cheaper while letting the debt grow?

Thus, isn't that pretty much another hypocritical decision of Pakatan after its lawmakers' past statements on the growing public transport network? Will they all retract their statements?

It is now left to voters to ask Pakatan candidates in their constituencies to explain their manifesto promises and suggest things to make it better.

This is a populist budget that raises a lot of questions that require answers which they must now provide, and there is enough ammunition for Barisan Nasional to point out the hypocrisy of their past statements.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: