Friday, January 14, 2011

TBS: Why must the ‘poor rakyat’ be sacrificed?

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate; blessings and peace be upon Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.

It (the Qur'an) is a Book We have sent down to you, full of blessings, so let people of intelelligence ponder its Signs and take heed. (Qur'an, 38:29)

COME 1st January 2011 I was very excited. It was not because of the beginning of the new year but from that day my daily travel using public transport would be ‘upgraded’ – express buses from the South heading for the federal capital would have a new ‘home’ in the city – the hi-tech transportation hub (Southern Integrated Terminal or in Malay ‘Terminal Bersepadu Selatan’, TBS) at Bandar Tasik Selatan, a few kilometres south of the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Prior to this, buses from the south were operating at a temporary bus terminal at Bukit Jalil. For about nine months since the closure of ‘Hentian’ Puduraya (bus terminal) for repairs and upgrading works, travellers like me had a hard time catching our buses at several improvised lanes of a stadium car park; which the authority unashamedly named Platform 1 and so on. Mind you, the temporary bus terminal only ‘houses’ tents for ticket counter booths and stalls and waiting areas, so passengers were subjected to rain and sun when they alighted or boarded their buses.

The first of January was on Saturday; I did not go to work on that day since it was my off day. Sunday is also my off day; I only went to work on Monday, the 3rd of January. In Melaka Sentral that morning before departing to Kuala Lumpur, I asked ‘my’ express bus driver regarding the latest development pertaining to TBS; whether his bus would head for the new station or still use the old Bukit Jalil Station.

The bus driver said his company's fleet of buses would still be using the old station; I was relieved because from Bukit Jalil it would be easy for me to catch the light rail transit (LTR) straight to my office in Titiwangsa. Even though the new terminal at Bandar Tasik Selatan (TBS) also houses three train service operators namely Express Rail Link (ERL), Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) and RapidKL which its commuter train I use daily, the unfamiliar surroundings might take time for me to be accustomed with, thus I am afraid I would be late for work.

The bus driver gave four reasons why his company refused to move to the hi-tech hub. Firstly, the terminal management company, TMAS, would charge RM1 per bus passenger entering the hub; secondly with the introduction of centralized ticketing operations run by TMAS, express bus counters would cease operations, jeopardizing the future of their ticketing staff; thirdly charges of express buses entering and using the facilities are too high, RM50 per bus as compared to RM15 at Bukit Jalil and lastly they were given short time notice to move to TBS.

The bus driver said his company pitied passengers as they had to pay more and to avoid this, for the time being, his company would not bulge from Bukit Jalil until further notice. But it was reported Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board (CVLB) director Halimah Sadique had given a stern warning to express bus operators that the authority would revoke their licenses if they refused to move in by 15th January.

When the ITT was opened on 1st January, Halimah was furious when she visited the area because only a few bus companies were operating from there; promoting her to say: “I had expected all of them (bus operators) to move in by today (Jan 1). Do you know the rakyat are miserable at Bukit Jalil?”

Yes Madam Halimah, the rakyat or to be exact public transport users are not only miserable at Bukit Jalil but through out the whole country since long, long time ago. As for me who was born in Malacca in 1962 and then had an early education there but moved on to study and work in Kuala Lumpur in the 1980s until now, among the icons of my life was the Malacca bus station, the express buses, Hentian Puduraya and in recent years the LRT.

Hentian Puduraya signifies the sad story of the rakyat. The dirty, crowded, chocked and other negative sides of the station which was built some 40 years and throughout those long years, the ‘poor rakyat’ had to suffer in silence. Prime Minister, Najib Razak made a visit sometimesin 2008; only then the authority decided to have a massive upgrading leading to a temporary closure for the station in early 2010.

As an alternative, a temporary bus station was set up in a car park in Bukit Jalil and would be operating until works at Puduraya completed and the TBS in Bandar Tasik Selantan began operation. The refurbished works at Puduraya failed to materialise in September as scheduled and still on going with the authority concerned giving assurance that it would be ready on 2nd February 2011, the same date the Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing Ministry had issued a directive that the TBS should start operations.

Halimah of CVB had directed bus operators to shift to TBS by Jan 1 but the ministry headed by Raja Nong Chik Zainal Abidin has other ideas, so why must the poor rakyat suffer from this undesirable situation?

Bukit Jalil is miserable; the situations worsen during rainy seasons. Once when I was rushing to catch a bus at about 8.40pm, I stepped on a muddy pool and one rainy night I had to run in the open from the LRT Bukit Jalil station to a Transnasional bus company tent situated at the furthest end, my clothes all wet. And I shivered in the bus on the two hours journey back to Malacca. So you were right, Madam Halimah saying that the rakyat are miserable in Bukit Jalil!

But please, don’t make the rakyat more miserable by forcing them to use the TBS as soon as possible; subjecting them to more inconvenient situations as many main issues pertaining to the station have not been resolved. As for passengers, I was told they had to pay more for their tickets, bus companies had to dig deeper in their pockets, many workers would be out of job and stallholders at Bukit Jalil and local small time traders in Bandar Tasik Selatan would be unable to move in the hi-tech terminal as the rent is ‘unbelievable’ to many of them.

Yes, the country is moving to become a high income nation as desired by our top leaders, but the big question is who benefits most from this policy? Those in power could build great buildings and hi-tech infrastructure such as the TBS to promote businesses thus enabling a few to earn millions or billions of ringgit but what about the majority of the rakyat? Why ‘pinch’ money from the ‘rakyat’? They remain poor and now with this type of development; they had to spend more on their hard earned little money!

*** Note

The bus company I used to travel daily finally gave in and moved into TBS on Thursday, 6th January. On that morning (about 9.30am), about 20 passengers of the said express bus company including myself made history, stepping on the gleaming floors of the magnificent six storey building.

Before entering the compound of TBS, our bus was screened before making way to the arrival area (bay). Then we were ushered to an escalator (a sensor-driven one) to Level 3 where various facilities to passengers such as centralized ticketing counter, e-ticketing kiosk, information counter, ‘surau’ and most important to me a pedestrian bridge connecting to train station catering to the ERL,KTMB and RapidKL lines.

My rating on the station; it is a three star, so congratulations to those concerned but please do no not burdened the ordinary rakyat with unnecessary charges or exorbitant prices of goods and services available at the station. And why must the TBS brochure in English only? I failed to find any in bahasa Malaysia!

Regarding prospect of businesses at the new station, a female assistant at a stall in the bus station in Bukit Jalil had this say when I told her that the new station at Bandar Tasik Selatan is ready: “Pak cik saja pindah, kita orang tak mampu” (Uncle, you alone move to the new station, we can't afford it) because she was told the rent for a shop lot there would be thousands of ringgit per month!

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