Is Malaysia’s Public Transport System Really Among World’s Worst?

Malaysia public transport urban mobility sustainable cities index ranking arcadis

Last month, Kuala Lumpur came in at 95th from 100 cities globally in the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Mobility Index with an overall score of 31%.

But is Kualà Lumpur’s public transport really that bad? The short answer is no.

In a nutshell, the evaluation did not capture the full picture of the city’s fast-developing public transportation network.

The Assessment

Arcadis said Kuala Lumpur scored well under the ‘profit’ pillar: 57% for affordability of public transport and 63% for wheelchair access. The second pillar is ‘people’ for which Kuala Lumpur scored below 40%.

But the city stumbled with 0% in terms of the ‘planet’ pillar, it added. Hence Kuala Lumpur could adopt a greener approach such as introducing low-emission zones and linking public transport to electric vehicle incentives, said the Amsterdam-based consultancy.

“The report highlights the untapped opportunity for Kuala Lumpur’s linked with large scale infrastructure and the ability to bring public transport to the masses to help the public utilize the transport system,” said Arcadis.

The consultancy further stated that Kuala Lumpur’s mobility rank would further improve as public transport becomes a more appealing option for commuters with further investment in and integration amongst various land public transportation networks in the city.

How Cities Are Evaluated

Given a diverse pool of 100 cities, each with unique demographics and systems, the Centre for Economic and Business Research (Cebr) compiles the index for Arcadis by exploring mobility through three pillars of sustainability: profit, people and planet.

The profit pillar takes into account the actual utilization of public transport as well as its affordability, commuting travel time and the financial sustainability of the system, among other things.

Meantime, the planet pillar includes an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions, efforts to reduce those emissions, bicycle infrastructure and electric vehicle incentives, among other things to gauge the environmental impact and sustainability of public transport in each city.

The people pillar includes a consideration of the modal split of trips taken with the local public transport, safety of users and how accessible the system is including to disabled users. The evaluation also looks at digitization of public transport access among other things.

The scoring from these three pillars are then compiled for each country to form an indicative ranking of the 100 cities evaluated.

Interestingly, Hong Kong topped the rankings while Singapore came in at third amongst Asian cities and eighth globally.

Here are the top five ranking for Asia and ASEAN respectively:

Asia’s Top Five Cities — Arcadis Sustainable Cities Mobility Index 2017

Overall Rank

Asia Rank




Hong Kong













Asean’s Top Five Cities — Arcadis Sustainable Cities Mobility Index 2017

Overall Rank

Asia Rank
















Kuala Lumpur

What The Score Does Not Show

It would be helpful to keep the index findings in perspective. In Kuala Lumpur’s case, its land public transportation (LPT) network is still under long-term development until 2030.

By that year, Malaysia aims to have 80% of its urban population to live within 400 metres of a reliable LPT service as part of its National Land Public Transport Master Plan formulated in 2013. The plan aims to achieve 40% modal share for LPT in the Klang Valley by 2030.

This LPT accessibility target is similar to what Singapore, which ranked much higher than Kuala Lumpur, is planning for its 24th town by the local Housing Development Board called Tengah.

Once this goal is achieved, the resulting easy connectivity would boost Kuala Lumpur’s ‘people’ score, which measures how a mobility system affects its users in terms of reliability, transport coverage, operational hours and ultimately its popularity.

On the flip side, however, this also means that until the LPT network in Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley is fully developed by the targeted 2030, the ‘people’ would remain relatively low.

Key focuses to address first and last-mile connectivity and reduce congestion by promoting alternative transportation modes include pushing ride-sharing as a mobility option.

In 2016, the government declared its backing for ride-sharing services despite contention against their legality with various incentives, including one that encourage lower income groups to drive for ride-sharing service providers.

Last month, the government added to that with a RM5,000 grant for taxi drivers looking to shift to ride-sharing services, as announced in the 2018 Budget.

Other up-and-coming solutions include the car-sharing program GoCar and Malaysia’s first electric car-sharing program by Cohesive Mobility Solution (COMOS), which offers electric cars for rental either by daily, weekly or monthly rates.

But these measures may take time to gain enough popularity amongst the public to be properly reflected in the index’s evaluation.

To put things into further perspective, bicycle-sharing is a fairly recent concept in Malaysia going car-lite mobility — the first dockless operator, Obike, only launched in April 2016. Ofo followed in August 2017 with its push into Melaka while Chinese player Mobike entered Malaysia the following month.

Promoting EV And AV Push

In the meantime, Kuala Lumpur’s 0% score with the ‘planet’ pillar belies its efforts to encourage green technology advancements on top of existing initiatives. These developments may be better reflected in the index once there is more time for these initiatives to show results.

For example, in the 2018 budget, RM5 billion was set aside for the Green Technology Financing Scheme to promote investments into green technologies.

While it is not specific to any sector, the resource available would be complementary to auto players’ existing investments into Electric Vehicles (EV) and possibly Autonomous Vehicles (AV) in public transportation.

Other announcements include a RM3 billion allocation to the Transportation Development Fund to procure vessels and develop aerospace and rail industries. Another RM1 billion will be put into the Public Transportation Fund as working capital and to acquire buses, taxis and other assets.

Using such funds to procure green vehicles such as electric buses would be a natural next step for LPT operators, such as for the upcoming electric taxi fleet in Langkawi by end-2017.

These complement previous initiatives, such as an electric bus pilot program in Putrajaya since mid-2016 in a collaboration between the government and Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO).

The pilot is notably the world’s first demonstration of a full-sized (12 metres in length) double-decker, battery-powered buses.

Read Prime Minister Najib is Transforming Malaysia’s Urban Mobility

B2018 – Expanding the People’s LPT Infrastructure & Network

Other announcements in Budget 2018 relevant to transportation infrastructure include:

  • RM55 million set aside to subsidise train services in rural areas connecting Tumpat to Gua Musang.
  • East Coast Rail Line connecting Port Klang to Pengkalan Kubor will begin construction in January 2018.
  • The Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line 3, which was earlier slated for 2027 completion, will be expedited to finish by 2025.
  • The MRT Line 2 project connecting Sungai Buloh-Serdang-Putrajaya spanning 37 stations and 52 kilometres will cost RM32 billion.
  • The Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 3 from Bandar Utama to Johan Setia in Klang will complete by February 2021.
  • The High Speed Rail project linking Kuala Lumpur and Singapore across 350 kilometres is expected to be operational by 2026.

Another crucial LPT project not mentioned in the 2018 Budget announcement is the Singapore-Johor Baru Rapid Transit System (RTS) Link, for which a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two countries last September. A bilateral agreement is expected by December 2017 and completion is slated for end-2024.

A Long-Term Endeavour

Given the various initiatives and projects underway vis-à-vis Kuala Lumpur’s LPT network, it is clear that the public transportation system is still under major development and has some way to go before it is mature.

In turn, that means Kuala Lumpur’s road ahead up Arcadis the Sustainable Cities Mobility Index will also take time.

The assessment metrics set out under the people, profit and planet pillars depend heavily on various factors that are a natural consequence of a well-developed LPT infrastructure — in other words,

By year 2030, the deadline set by Malaysia’s National Land Public Transport Master Plan, the assessment of Malaysia’s public transportation network may be very different from what it was 13 years prior.

READ Ridership on the Rise for Malaysian Rail Transit System

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