Don’t remove feeder buses for MRT commuters

LETTER | I refer to a media report dated Oct 9, 2018 with heading “Putrajaya in talks with Grab to help ferry MRT commuters”. In the report, the finance minister’s political secretary Tony Pua was quoted as saying that the government is in talks with homegrown e-hailing company Grab to provide transport services to commuters.

“Now we have new ventures, new innovative digital technologies like Grab, who can help us, defray the cost of some of the public transport expenditure.

“Why should you provide feeder buses if you can work with Grab?

“They can actually arrive and give door-to-door delivery from MRT to commuters’ homes at reasonable price and at a cost that will be cheaper than us (the government) supplying feeder buses,” Pua reportedly told a panel during the “Malaysia: A new dawn” conference in Kuala Lumpur.

We appreciate the hard work and effort by Pua and others in the government to manage the country’s fiscal deficit and debt. However, the idea of using Grab cars to replace feeder buses is unacceptable, too simplistic and lacks in-depth study.

It is an idea thrown out of an armchair, without taking into consideration many other implications such as traffic congestion, pollution, hardship to the poor and marginalised, and other hidden costs.

Role of feeder buses

Countries all over the world are moving towards promoting the use of public transport instead of cars as an efficient, cost-effective, reliable and safe means of commuting, which at the same time helps reduce pollution. Here, we are trying to do just the opposite.

Feeder buses play an important role in the overall transport system and provide the “first and last mile” connectivity to passengers’ intended destinations.

The feeder buses were introduced to provide the essential links to and from the MRT stations at an affordable cost.

As the feeder buses serve as an integral part of the overall MRT system, removing them will “cripple” the MRT system and jeopardise its overall operations, connectivity, reliability and efficiency. Hence, this will further reduce the usage of the MRT system.

Pua and colleagues need to constantly remind themselves that they are now the government of the day. As the government of the day, it is important that all the stakeholders (including taxi companies) and the public at large are consulted before implementing any decision affecting them.

It is also the duty and responsibility of the government to give due consideration to the poor and marginalised groups who may depend solely on public transport to move around.

To the poor, affordability is a major issue. The fare for the feeder bus service is RM 1.00 per trip. Concession fare, which involves a 50 percent discount, is given to senior citizens, persons with disabilities and students. Grab car fare is between six to 10 times higher – or perhaps even more during peak hours – than the feeder bus.

To persons with disabilities, in addition to affordability, accessibility is a major concern. At the present moment, all the feeder buses are wheelchair-friendly, equipped with features such as ramps, dedicated spaces and special alert buttons, among others.

Advocates for people with disabilities have come a long way and have had long years of struggle in lobbying for wheelchair-accessible buses to be brought in to cater to the diverse needs of the commuters.

At the present moment, none of the taxis nor Grab cars is wheelchair-accessible. To many of us who were involved in the lobbying for wheelchair-accessible buses, the news to replace feeder buses with Grab cars is disheartening and heartbreaking, to say the least.

The issue here is not about the quality of Grab car or taxi services. It is about affordability and accessibility. It is about choices and having more options.

Encouraging public transport

The government needs to do a lot more to encourage more people to use public transport.

Consultations should be done from time to time with the stakeholders and users to get feedback on ways and means to improve the public transport system.

Perhaps the government should also explore other means of saving cost, without causing much hardship and inconvenience to the poor and marginalised groups.

Removing the feeder buses can be seen as taking an easy way out. Feeder buses serve as an integral part of the MRT system and cannot be replaced with Grab cars. Grab cars and taxis complement the services of the feeder buses and give additional options to those who can afford it and who prefer door-to-door service.

So, Pua, we disagree and will have to say “no” to your idea of “No feeder buses”.

The writer represents Barrier-free Environment and Accessible Transport (Beat) NGO. The above is endorsed by:

Damai Disabled Person Association Malaysia
Self-Advocacy Society of Persons with Learning Disabilities Selangor & Kuala Lumpur
Persatuan Kebajikan Masyarakat Permata Warga Istimewa Malaysia
Persatuan Orang-Orang Cacat Anggota Malaysia (POCAM)
Malaysian Confederation Of The Disabled (MCD)
Shuang Fu (Double Blessing) Disabled Independent Living Association
Persatuan Mobiliti Selangor & Kuala Lumpur
Malaysian Council for Rehabilitation
Challenges Foundation