Kuala Lumpur’s Public Transport Ranked One of the Worst. Sure boh?

Automologist LING rises to defend her country…will she succeed?  

Recently, a study commissioned by Arcadis, an Amsterdam-based consultancy company, ranked Kuala Lumpur as having one of the worst public transport amongst cities around the world—worst in terms of “quality and sustainability of mobility systems”, in a comparison of 100 cities.

Now, I have my complaints about the public transport in Malaysia, but even I find it hard to believe that Kuala Lumpur falls in 95th place, faring worse than Bangkok (92nd) and even Jakarta (89th), with Manila ranking higher than all three at 63rd. I’ve been to these cities and my personal experience does not corroborate these findings. I’ve also used the public transport in some of the cities that top the list—eg. Hong Kong, Paris, Vienna, London (not bragging…okay, maybe just a little)—and while KL’s public transport has a long way to go to be on par, I didn’t think that we are so, so bad. Whatever bit of patriotic pride that I forget exists in me compelled me to dig deeper.

Of course, the study was based on certain parameters, and “quality” and “sustainability” are terms open to interpretation. The study used 23 indicators to make this determination, dividing them into three generally accepted categories to encompass all of what it means to be sustainable: People, Planet and Profit. As I looked into these indicators, I had to…heavy sigh…concede the results.


Includes transport coverage, reliability, hours of operation, popularity of system, etc. There were 10 indicators in this category, and each carried a different weightage. KL clearly lacked in the few top ones: –

  • Modal split of trips taken (16%)

This means the number of trips taken on public transport, and we don’t need a survey to tell us that country as a whole is highly dependent on private vehicles. But if you do, a 2014 Nielsen surveyplaced the country third globally for car ownership.

  • Fatalities (15%)

WHO ranked Malaysia third (our lucky number, it seems) on traffic fatalities, after Thailand and South Africa, based on 2013 statistics; there were 23 traffic-related deaths for every population of 100,000.

  • Access to transport services (13%)

The study determines this by the number of metro and bus stops per km2. The first- and last-mile in my journeys is always an issue, and I often find the nearest bus stop to be far from near. Anyone else?

  • Rider connectivitiy (9%)

Wi-Fi on our trains? Hah! Mimpi lah!


You know, environmental concerns. There are seven indicators in this category, the top ones being: –

  • GHG emissions (17%)

Malaysia is one of the highest producer of CO2 in the region (8.0 metric tons per capita), topped by Singapore (10.3 metric tons per capita) and Brunei (22.1 metric tons per capita) (World Bank, 2014). We still rely on coal for energy generation (so, EV cars still pollute, indirectly) and Euro 2 petrol (RON95) is widely used. Good news, though—see next…

  • Efforts to lower transport emissions (16%)

Malaysia has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. One of the efforts underway is to phase out Euro 2 petrol (RON95 and diesel) and replace it with Euro 4. Furthermore, with the expansion of the LRT lines and the launch of the MRT, efforts in this regard is underway. Now, if we can only stop buying so many darn cars…

  • Congestions and delays (15%)

Nothing more needs to be said about this. You know, I know.

  • Bicycle infrastructure (14%)

Do pedestrian pavement, emergency lane and the slow lane count? ‘Cause in most places, that’s all a cyclist gets.


The ability of the transport system to facilitate growth and support business. Six indicators were used here, and the top three are:

  • Utilisation of the transport system (30%) 

This indicator is determined by the average number of public transport journeys per capita. Well, I think we have already established that Malaysians are still heavily dependent on private vehicles.

  • Public Finance (25%)

Our Prime Minister Najib announced in Budget 2018 an RM1 billion allocation for a public transport fund. Great! As long as the money goes to the right place(s), unlike another infamous fund…

  • Affordability (19%)

Dollar for dollar, the cost of taking the public transport in Malaysia is high. In Singapore, the MRT fare from Pasir Ris in the east to Pioneer in the west costs SGD2. Back in Malaysia, taking an LRT ride from the Gombak station to Putra Heights—ie. the entire length of the Kelana Jaya line—costs RM6.10.

Some good news to give us hope….

Image credit.

The report highlighted Kuala Lumpur as having great potential in achieving a sustainable mobility system, with new developments including:

  • Over 40 km of covered, accessible, pedestrian and elevated walkways should be completed by 2020. (Should be, not would be?!)
  • Line 1 of the MRT should take 160,000 cars off the road.

Do you agree with this study? Do you think we’ll do better in the next one?

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