Is public transportation a viable option in KL?

Is public transportation a viable option in KL?
By Zan Azlee

I hate driving. I do. I’ve owned a car ever since I started going to university. I still do today after joining the workforce and now a father of two little girls. Driving is just something you have to do if you want to survive in Malaysia.

If given the choice, I would take public transportation everywhere I go. But I have to say that it is almost impossible to do so because of how the country has been designed.

The culture that we have been brought up in, and the perspective that we have of driving and of taking public transportation, has put us Malaysians in a very disadvantaged position indeed. So hear me out.

Way back in the early 1980s, the country launched its first national car, the Proton Saga. After that significant moment, everything has been designed to make sure that people would buy the car and make the company successful.

Of course, affordability was key. The government increased duties for imported cars so that none could compete with Proton’s price. But they also made sure that driving was made easy.

Hence, we have such a complex system of roads, lanes and highways that allow for many cars to drive around. But in designing that, the government also made sure that Malaysia would not have a conducive environment for public transportation.

The different perspectives that people have about driving and taking public transportation is another issue. Many people see that those who drive have class and are of a certain standard, while those who take public transport are, well, poor.

So, now that the government is starting an attempt to make relative progress in the public transportation department (although mainly in Kuala Lumpur), it still doesn’t mean that the adoption rate is going to spike.

It’s not that I have never tried not driving. I really did try to take public transport on a regular basis. But like I said, everything has already been set up in this country to make me give it up after trying it out.

I live in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. Kota Kemuning is about 45km from the city centre. When I decided to be a public transport commuter, I was really excited and wanted it to work because driving is just too stressful for me.

The nearest train station is the KTM Komuter station in Seksyen 19, Shah Alam. For me, to be able to get to that station requires me to drive my car and park it there. It is roughly a 15-minute drive.

And once I get there, I would have to wait for the train. The KTM Komuter is half the time on schedule and half the time not. That would be a problem for me because I usually go out for appointments and meetings.

Then, because I live in the suburbs where the transport network isn’t so comprehensive, it takes a lot of transits and changing of lines and vehicles for the most part and this is really a big hassle and takes up a lot of time when compared to driving.

I could always take Uber (of which I am a big fan, by the way). But Uber is more expensive than the KTM Komuter, LRT or MRT. So it can’t really be a regular thing unless I really have deep pockets.

Not really cheap and affordable

And since we’re on the subject of cost, taking public transportation isn’t exactly that cheap and affordable. For me to get to the city centre from where I am would cost me approximately RM30 a day (which would factor in ticket prices and the occasional Uber ride).

That’s almost the same price I would have to pay for petrol, tolls and parking if I were to drive! And if I drove, it would take me half the time to move around.

And don’t forget that there is regular maintenance of the car along with monthly instalments, insurance and road tax. So the fact that I already own a car makes it even more difficult for me to take public transportation because I would actually be paying double the cost – cost of the car that I own and the cost of public transportation.

My public commuting phase lasted for three weeks before I gave up. It’s really a lose-lose situation because there really is no real option for us. We can opt for public transportation, but it really still isn’t comprehensive enough to rely on totally. So you still need a car.

Until the day comes when we can clearly make a decision between having private transportation or relying totally on public transportation, we will continue to be in this dilemma. But I do realise that day will come no matter how far off its looks for now.

[This article was originally written for and published at]

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