Monday, April 28, 2008

Sabah's transport system needs overhaul

Written by arimi sidek

It is something that we probably are not aware of. But there is an economic discipline known as transportation economics. Transport economics is a branch of economics that deals with the allocation of resources within the transport sector and has strong linkages with civil engineering. The core of the discipline is about of the allocation of transportation resources in order to meet the needs of a society.

Note: This is a reproduction of my article that was published in Daily Express newspaper [Sabah], aims to cater wider and more serious audience on the matter.

The development of models to estimate the likely choices between the non-similar goods involved in transport decisions (discrete choice models) led to the development of an important branch of econometrics, and a Nobel Prize for Daniel McFadden.

In a macroeconomic sense, transportation activities form a portion of a nation's total economic product and play a role in building or strengthening a national or regional economy and as an influence in the development of land and other resources.

But, even without knowing about transportation economics, one will be able to notice that public transportation in Sabah is far from being efficient at present.

To be more specific, let's begin with bus as the core of public transport in the State. I rather call them as mini bus and van.

So far, the only available "upgrade" I can see in Kota Kinabalu city so far are the terminals. But even these, there are so many things that we can talk about. For example, enough to say that if Wawasan bus terminals ran by a company, it would have gone bankrupt long ago.

It is located at the far end of the city and both mini bus operators and commuters seems try their best to avoid it. They prefer doing business together i.e. loading and waiting at the two most congested spot in the city. One, at the bus stop in front of Shang-Ri-La hotel not far from Bandaran Berjaya. And the other, at the old Cathay cinema bus stop.

I can accept the fact that those terminals are part of the whole public transportation restructuring process, to our joy as Sabahan.

The only problem is that, we do not live in future – we live at present. If there are such things as transport development planning in phases and in place for the time being, apart from those terminals, what are they?

More on mini bus and van. You probably confuse on why do I put them in separate categories. But mini bus – with around 24 seaters, and van are truly different in term of capability, technology, comforts and also safety. But both are a misery for public commuters. I wonder for how long Sabahan will commute and transport by van. It is too much to traveling discomfort for a ‘city’ dweller. It’s van, not a bus.

It is okay if you travel with your family, but not as a public transportation means. If you think it is deem appropriate, why KL don’t use vans instead of monorail and LRT?

I do see some improvement to be fair with. Bus drivers have uniforms now. But their busses are still in pretty bad shape. Try your journey to Tuaran and have a seat beside the van driver.

You may surprise in some of them, there is nowhere to plug in the safety belt. This is true not only for outside city mini bus area such as Tuaran, but for KK and the surrounding area such as Beverly Hills and Putatan as well.

The worst part of public transportation in the city is because they are highly unpredictable. The time management and schedule is far from efficient, it is highly unpredictable. It is not easy for Government to monitor and to supervise, even though they tried.

Most of bus operators are individuals and small operators under loose governance of Persatuan Pengusaha Pengusaha Bas Mini Bumiputra Sabah - (PPPBMBS).

It is timely for government to introduce the concept of consortium and conglomerate of all bus operators in the city, to start with. For example, bus transport in KL operated by 11 major companies only. Under this concept all bus operators unite themselves under one or several big companies that will benefit all rakyat.

For companies, they will enjoys greater degree of efficiency or “economies of scale” and commuters on the other hand, enjoy a better, convenience and reliable transport service.

Maybe it isn’t fair to compare Sabah transportation with those in Kuala Lumpur at present as the gap terribly huge. Say, compare ours to mini buses that once also available in KL.

The mini bus (1975 - 1998) was responsible for servicing nearly 60 different routes, but this was taken care of by only three major companies while smaller operators were allowed to service certain areas only.

Apart from mini bus, we need to observe on what is going on with Sabah State Railway – SSR. It is a real concern on how do we look at it. Should we look into it from only historical value, or from indirect economic potential and gains out of it such as from tourism, or from truly economic point of view?

SSR director seems proud for the term of "The Land of The Last Vulcans". In fact, SSR (1896) is only 12 years younger than Keretapi Tanah Melayu - KTM (1884). Both have been with us since the colonial era but as it is now SSR is dying and KTM is very much alive.

Recently, the federal government charged KTM to work alongside SSR to undertake short and medium term works on the railway to enhance its safety. This included rehabilitating the track and signalling and also overhaul of the rolling stock in order to ensure continuation of service.

But I doubt that SSR will ever be significant again to the state public transportation. Present day railway begins at Tanjung Aru and ends at Tenom with the to distance of 134 Km. On the other hand, Pan Borneo entire highway system is expected to be about 1047.18 km once completed.

I think the economic solutions; to shut it down forever is always the best option. Unless of course, somebody can convince on its value to tourism.

Source: Daily Express Newspaper, 2nd March 2008. pp.17

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