Prime minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has just announced the 12th Malaysia Plan (Rancangan Malaysia Ke-12 or RMK-12), a five-year guide for the country’s development. In it, the government has both reviewed the nation’s performance in line with the 11th plan and proposed several measures to address the biggest issues, including in the area of transportation.

Here, we’re focusing on Malaysia’s public transportation, which has seen sweeping development over the past five years, such as the introduction of the first Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line (Kajang Line) and the extension of the Kelana Jaya and Ampang/Sri Petaling Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines. Despite this, Malaysia failed to reach the 40% public transport modal share target last year; it was last recorded at just 21% in 2018.

The government listed a number of reason for this – inadequate connectivity, lack of accessibility and reliability of services, the reluctance of the public to switch from private vehicles and, of course, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Poor first- and last-mile connectivity between different modes of transport is said to be a particular pain point, hampering seamless travel.

The local public transport system is also said to suffer from low On Time Performance (OTP), long journey times and lack of holistic travel demand management, affecting its efficiency and reliability. All this has contributed to an underutilisation of public transport, below the government’s target.

Another huge contributor was Malaysia’s relatively low cost of car ownership, which has made the public reluctant to switch from private vehicles to public transport – likely exacerbated by the pandemic. The number of registered vehicles has shot up by around six per cent per annum, rising from 20.2 million in 2010 to 30 million vehicles in 2018. The ratio of vehicles to population stood at 0.9 in 2018, making Malaysia one of the highest in the region in this regard. So much for our “high car prices”, eh?

It’s not all bad news, however. The government trumpeted the success of KTM’s Electric Train Service (ETS), which was introduced in 2010 and stretches from Gemas in Negeri Sembilan and Padang Besar in Perlis. Daily ridership doubled from 5,500 in 2015 to 11,000 just two years later and was targeted to hit 12,000 by December 2020 with up to 44 trips a day.

To help with this, KTM added nine new train sets equipped with business class coaches in 2019 and will extend the services up to Johor Bahru once the Gemas-Johor Bahru Double Track project is completed in 2023. This will effectively link up the north and south of Peninsular Malaysia along the west coast, improving connectivity and providing a more comfortable journey for long-distance rail passengers.

Low public transport utilisation is a serious problem, which is why RMK-12 also includes a number of initiatives to fix this by providing affordable, reliable and seamless mobility in the near future. The government wants to provide a more accessible and integrated transport system and reduce the nation’s dependence on private vehicles. The latter will include measures such as limiting parking spaces and imposing higher parking charges in city centres.