Saturday, 19 January 2013

What Kuala Lumpur Should Learn From Seoul's Public Transport System - Don't Listen, LOOK

A few days ago there is a video gone viral on the internet. The video is about a UUM law student that came up to a microphone in the forum and starting to babble about billions of ringgit and free education. At first I thought; oh, just another bersih supporter. But I had a rude awakening when one of the panelist came down from the stage, interrupting the girl by saying 'listen' multiple times, pulled the microphone away from the girl and deviate from the topic. But I am very interested in the answer given when the girl listed a few countries that gave free education. Here is the answer;

"Jangan samakan negara Malaysia dengan negara lain (Don't equate Malaysia with other countries). Sekiranya negara Malaysia disamakan dengan negara lain, (If you equate Malaysia with other countries,) what are you doing in Malaysia? Listen, what are you doing in Malaysia? Go to Cuba, go to Argentina go to Libya, go everywhere."

Does this mean that we cannot give any suggestions to improve policies in Malaysia according to examples of other countries? I mean back three decades ago during Tun Dr. Mahathir's time, he inspired the Look East Policy where we would refer to Japan and Korea as examples of our modernization. If you still think the same way why don't you tell Tun Dr. Mahathir to leave Malaysia and live in Japan or Korea?

There is a lot going on in Malaysia nowadays. People are having problems with price hikes, the cost of living are rising day by day to cars being sold in Malaysia overpriced. Pakatan Rakyat, the opposition party for the ruling party Barisan Nasional, saw these issues and pointed them out, saying that they are willing to solve this. Although I am not a big fan of politics, I do hear some murmurings that they are planning to use the revenues from Petronas to give more subsidies to lower the prices of important goods in Malaysia. I'm not sure if it is true, but it does sound appealing to those who are in a financial crisis in these times with high living costs. Still, I think giving more subsidies is not a very sustainable way of solving the problem. I think we can solve this problem by simply re-initiating the Look East Policy.

Improvements in Public Transport System

There is more to Seoul than just Kpop. Let me list some of the improvements that Kuala Lumpur needs, taken from the metropolis of Seoul. Seoul hit the 10 billion population mark in 1988, now it is estimated that 23 billion people live in this mega city. With lots of people crammed in a single city, life strangling congestion is becoming the major problem. To solve this, officials turned to a controversial solution, demolition of one of the important highways in the middle of Seoul to uncover an ancient stream that runs below it.

This is the stream that I meant. The Cheonggye Stream. The removal of the highway really improved the quality of life in Seoul and now it becomes one of the important tourist spots in the city. With the removal of the highway, the problem is solved by actually reforming the public transportation of Seoul. This means that the integration of subway networks and buses. First is the network of subway lines and trains that intertwines in the city, in Seoul we literally can get to anywhere with the subway, train and bus system. Plus we can even go to the satellite cities around Seoul such as Suwon, Incheon and Gyeonggi-do with the same train network from Seoul.

The major improvement in this reform is the bus system. Seoul was one of the first cities in the world that has a dedicated bus lane in the middle of the road. But bus lanes are not effective enough if the buses needs to weave through traffic to get to bus stops at the roadside, so Seoul officials took the step further by placing bus stops in the middle of the road parallel with the bus lanes. Every bus in Seoul is also equipped with GPS positioning system called TOPIS where the location of every bus is monitored to keep its timeline. This means that buses can distance themselves accordingly with the bus up front and behind it in the same line. This ensures optimum waiting times and more than one bus in the same line won't suddenly appear the same place at the same time. Plus at bus stops people are informed of the waiting times for the buses to come to their bus stop in real time through an electronic info display installed in every bus stop. This helps people to plan their journey effectively whether to wait for the bus or not.

The addition of bus lanes and bus stops being put in the middle of the road instead of the roadside.

Plus the public transport here uses a rechargeable smart card called T-Money as the main means of payment. The T-Money system charge users with the first initial fare of 1050 won and gives up to three free transfers. It also records the time and distance traveled by the user and change additional 100 won for additional 5km traveled and if it exceeds 40km, the charge changes to an additional 100 won for each 10km traveled. This ensures efficiency and cheap public transport system that becomes the main means of transportation in Seoul, eliminating the need for Seoulites to own a car just to get around. I am quite unimpressed on how we have a similar card in Malaysia called TouchNGo, but at the current rate of usage in Malaysia, it is extremely underrated. Plus, the fare system is also not as integrated and quite expensive in comparison with the fare system in Seoul.

Having a similarly reliable public transportation system in Kuala Lumpur would solve a lot of the problems that we face today. Owning a car means that we need to pay for the monthly installments, insurance, fuel, maintenance costs, parking fees and so much more. If the public transportation system in Kuala Lumpur is reliable enough, the need to own a car is eliminated automatically. This can lower much of the pollution, traffic congestion and ultimately, lower the monthly spending that most Kuala Lumpurites do on cars. Having a similar train system that connects Kuala Lumpur to its surrounding cities such as eastward to Klang, south to Putrajaya, Cyberjaya, up to Negeri Sembilan, and north up to Rawang also helps a lot in managing sky rocketing real estate prices in Kuala Lumpur. It helps a lot if people can buy affordable houses far in the surrounding cities and still be able to go to the city center for work with a reliable public transport system just like going to Seoul from its satellite cities.

Another problem that was pointed out and politicized by the opposition political party is the installment of AES speed trap cameras that intends to punish speedsters. In the streets of Seoul, cameras are installed not in the intention of punishing people with summons but as a means to combat traffic congestion. The presence of cameras in the streets of Seoul is very obvious especially in street junctions. They are the 'eyes' of the city. If there is a traffic accident, the cameras can quickly inform first responders to tackle the problem immediately, taking them to a safer place before a traffic deadlock starts. I have seen how quickly the police respond to an accident personally and I am very impressed by the response time. It would be extremely useful for Kuala Lumpur to install a similar monitoring system that helps to keep traffic running smooth and for first responders to react in time instead of punishing motorists.

Speed Trains as The Main Means of Moving Commodity and 'Balik Kampung'?

I still remember how the fuel price hike effects the price of commodity almost immediately in Malaysia. They would give the excuse of the goods being transported by lorries that consume much diesel to justify the price hike of goods. What if we improve the network of railways in Malaysia, especially in Kuala Lumpur just like in Seoul. Major railway lines converges into the city into large railway stations such as Yongsan Station and Seoul Station, making transporting commodities with trains easier. I am informed that in Korea, nearly half of its electrical power consumed is generated from Nuclear power. When there is electricity, the trains can keep running despite of fuel price hikes. Would it be nice if Malaysia can be like this too?

Plus, why can't we have a fast train system that effectively connects every state in the Malaysian Peninsular? There are the new double rail at the west coast, but would it be nice if it could be connected to another line going to the east coast as well? It would be a lucrative route especially in the Raya season for 'balik kampung'. Some would give the reason of not enough economic activity there, but if there are reliable logistics running from Kuala Lumpur to the east coast states, would it open up a million possibilities of new investment and development there. By that time they would be preoccupied in working, improving their own economic status by themselves and care less about asking for money from offshore oil.

About offering more subsidies from oil, what about encouraging more and more high tech industry and agriculture in Malaysia? Instead of offering more subsidies, let's try and make our own stuff. Just like Koreans that make their own cars and electronics that now known internationally. Some would laugh but it is true that here in Korea, LG does make bathing soap and Samsung makes cars. Although the cost of living in Seoul is relatively high because of the food prices is quite high, but this trend is slowly changing as more and more local produce are coming to Seoul. In Korea they prefer locally produced commodities mostly because of patriotism, but also because it is cheaper than imports. Expensive stuff? Let's make them ourselves! It would be lovely if Malaysians would think the same way.

There is a ton of possibilities in Malaysia. We just need some bold men to unleash it just like the leaders during Tun Dr. Mahathir's time. We need people like you nowadays, more than you know.

The writer is a photography blogger that is currently studying in Seoul, South Korea. Although most of the steps are not well thought through, those are just suggestions to get people's minds moving. I hope you wouldn't have to tell him to go out to Malaysia and live in South Korea. We like South Korea, but we still love Malaysia.

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