Comparative Analysis of the Public Transportation in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur

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Kuala Lumpur (KL) is the national capital and largest city in Malaysia. It covers an area of 243 square kilometres and has an estimated population of 1.808 million as of 2017. As the most populous city in Malaysia, KL has a very high population density of 7,440 people per square kilometres. As KL is one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions in South East Asia, it attracts a lot of Malaysians from other cities to work and live in KL. With the number of cars travelling into KL daily from other cities coupled with the initial number of cars in the city itself, there is no doubt that there is heavy traffic congestion during peak hours. KL has seen a rapid increase in cars which has overloaded the whole transport system, thus obstructing the mobility in the country. Furthermore, as the number of motorcycles and cars has tripled in the last three decades (Shariff,2012), the number of road fatality especially among motorcyclist has significantly increased (Mohammad, 2007).

Despite the government’s effort in promoting the use of public transport, KL residents’ main choice of transport still remains to be the private car which is the main cause of massive daily traffic jams in the city where the public transport modal share has plunged to the lowest figure of 10% in 2008 (Pemandu, 2010). In addition, the World Bank report has estimated that the KL citizens “spend more than 250 million hours a year stuck in traffic”. One main reason for this traffic jam is due to the sheer number of vehicles on the road. According to a Nielsen survey, Malaysia has the third highest car ownership rate in the world.

The Malaysian authorities have recognised that the transportation issues are a serious threat to the capital city in the economic, social and environmental aspect. This situation calls for the urgent need to decrease the dependency on private vehicle usage and increase the use of public transport (Dargay, Gately and Mohammad, 2007). The authorities have taken steps to improve the situation such as making changes in the domestic automobile and fuel subsidies and increasing investment to the Mass Rapid Transit System.

This report aims to explore and evaluate the issue of public transport usage in KL with a focus on the _______. Singapore will be used as a benchmarking study to provide recommendations which would be adapted into the KL transport system.

Transportation in Kuala Lumpur

Currently, Kuala Lumpur has a comprehensive road system supported by an extensive range of public transportation, such as the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), Light Rail Transit (LRT), monorail, buses, airport commuter rail and airport express rail link. RAPIDKL (Rangkaian Pengangkutan Integrasi Deras Kuala Lumpur Sdn Bhd), a government-owned company is currently the biggest public transport operator in KL with 65% of the market share consisting of bus, monorail and LRT services. There are a few bus operators operating in KL, providing transport from the city centre to the suburbs. Presently, there are four major private companies operating an estimated 15,000 bus trips per day, specifically Metrobus, Selangor Omnibus, Transnational and Triton.

Between 1985 and 2015, the model share of public transport decreased from 34.3% to 20%. This statistic reflects a significant shift away from public transport and specifically bus transport. The shift from public transport was partly due to the inefficiencies of bus services and the increase in personal influence leading to the increase of car ownership. In 2016, KL only has 17% trips completed using public transport daily and with the rest of the 83% trips by private transport. The inclination and dependency on private car usage will only worsen if the transport policy continues to be ineffective and inefficient.

The rail-based mode of transport gain popularity since the implementation of the LRT systems in 1998 consisting of 56 kilometres of LRT network with 49 stations. In addition to the LRT services, KL Monorail system also serves the Golden Triangle of Kuala Lumpur consisting of 8.6 kilometres of network and 11 stations.

Public transportation in Singapore

With almost 5.7 million people living in a city of about 650 square kilometres, Singapore faces challenges in meeting the needs of commuting by its citizens. In addition, Singapore has a limited land area that poses a challenge for more development of road networks. To create a sustainable transportation system to cater to the needs of the population and support the growth of the economy, an integrated approach has been taken. The transport system in Singapore is managed by the Land Transport Authority (LTA). Their vision is to create “a people-centred land transport system” by making public transport the citizens’ preferred choice by making it reliable and efficient. LTA is determined to ensure that there are physical accessibility, affordable transport and environmental sustainability in all their transport modes.

In 2016, according to a government survey, almost 60% of the Singapore population take public transport to work after the expansion of the country’s rail network. Currently, there are approximately 9,000 lane-km of roads in Singapore, which takes up about 12% of land in Singapore. Ten expressways with a total length of 163 kilometres including the new Marina Coastal Expressway. By the end of the year 2016, there were a total of 601,257 number of motorised cars registered and 27,534 taxis (MOT,2016).

According to the Mckinsey report, Singapore has one of the most affordable and best public transportation systems compared to 24 major cities worldwide. The report accessed the transportation system of 24 cities using more than 80 indicators with five main considerations: Affordability, availability, Convenience, efficiency and sustainability.

From the table above, Singapore scored the best for public transport affordability and also scored well in transport efficiency and safety. To support the results from the report, the report also looked at the citizen’s perception and satisfaction with the public transport system in Singapore. Out of the residents that were surveyed, more than 80% of them were satisfied with the overall public transport system.

There are three four modes of public transport in Singapore, namely the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), Light Rail Transit (LRT), taxis and buses. The MRT consist of five main lines with a total length of 137.7 kilometres. The daily ridership of MRT is approximately 3.3 million (MOT,2018). The MRT is an electrically driven railway system which represents the backbone of the land transport system. In addition, the LRT was developed since 1999 to serve as a feeder system to the MRT. There are 41 stations and operating at 3-minute interval during peak hours with a daily ridership of 180,000 (Statistic Singapore, 2016).

The bus services in Singapore has over 3.9 million ridership daily with more than 576 scheduled bus services and 5400 buses that are operated by SBS Transit, SMRT Buses, Tower Transit Singapore and Go-Ahead Singapore. To improve the efficiency and connectivity between the buses and train service, LTA has built Integrated Transport Hubs (ITHs). ITHs are fully air-conditioned bus interchange that links to the MRT stations seamlessly, connecting to commercial and retail developments.

Lastly, Taxis offers the most convenient mode of transport where the passengers get a private driver at their doorstep. Even though taxis cost a lot higher than MRT and buses, almost 1 million passengers use this mode of transport (Refer to Table _).

Issues in Kuala Lumpur and Comparison with Singapore

This section will identify and analyse the issues faced in Kuala Lumpur. Subsequently, a comparison will be made with Singapore based on each issue. The issues are:

Issue 1(lack of integration and focus)

The issue concerning the public transportation system in Kuala Lumpur is the lack of coordination and focus throughout the system. On the national level, the Malaysian government does not actively promote public transportation coupled with the lack of focus and attention throughout the system. According to the 11th Malaysia Plan, which is the government roadmap for development in the next few years, under the plans to improve the transport infrastructure, there is a lack of emphasis on public transportation with priorities on port operations and airport infrastructure (Eleventh Malaysia Plan, 2018).

Due to the lack of coordination at the government level, there is a lack of integration at the system level between the various modes of public transport system. Projects such as the LRT and Monorail systems were built without proper planning for their role in the larger MRT system. Bus providers not only do not serve as efficient feeder services to LRT, but they also compete in similar areas leaving some area with no bus services at all.

With the lack of integration between the different public transports, it leads to inefficiency that causes a low level of service. For example, schedules and route maps for buses are not readily available and routes are always subject to change. Moreover, transferring buses poses a great inconvenience and difficulty especially between buses run by different companies since there is no coordinated service between the companies. In addition, incompatible, separate, ticketing and fare system for the various mode of transport alleviate the issue.

Ridership in KL is low in general, representing an estimated 20% of the total person trips, in comparison with cities in neighbouring countries where it ranges from around 40% to 70%. With the lack of integration, the public transport system in KL has low accessibility and service reliability causing low ridership of public transportation. Furthermore, motorcycle and car ownership are high due to the relatively affordable gasoline, tolls, taxes and parking costs.

Integration of the multimodal transit systems

The various mode of transport is not planned and operated as individual systems. Unlike KL, the multimodal transit system is integrated to facilitate the efficiency and convenience in commuting and it has become the norm for transit travelling in Singapore. The ultimate goal for KL is to enhance the integration between different modes of transport in a seamless manner. The integration can be achieved with careful consideration of the infrastructure integration and the integration in services.

In Singapore, the three main categories of integration are basic connectivity, creation of a destination and establishment of transit place (Tong, 2002). Since Singapore is a very humid country, all forms of transit that are connected to other development provides shield access in all weather conditions for basic connectivity. For a multimodal transit station to become a destination, it is essential for it to be integrated with developments so that it forms an integral part of the development. Hence, KL should adopt this idea of having an integrated transport hub into their transport planning. When a transit station becomes a destination, the implication to the modelling process is that the trips taken will be attracted to the destination which itself is a station. The facilities provided to improve and facilitate includes bus shelters, bus interchanges, covered linkways, passenger pick-up and drop off points, taxi shelters, overhead bridges, pedestrian underpass and bicycle stands.

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In addition, it is important to have fare integration for all the different modes of transport. Since 1986, the TransitLink fare card also known as the EZlink card has been the main mode of fare payment for MRT and Bus Services even if they are provided by different companies. Fares on a different mode of transport involving bus and mrt will receive discounts. The convenience of using the EZ Link card has made the transition from a different mode of transport more popular. Currently, in KL, the Touch ‘n Go stored value card is accepted as a mode of payment on the LRT, MRT, Rapid Bus and monorail lines.

However, the fare integration for the Rapid Kl system excludes other rail systems provider such as the Express Rail Link and KTM Komuter. Even though there are plans for the government to provide an integrated fare system, where the Integrated Common Payment System (ICPS) would enable a single cashless payment for all public transport usage, it has not been realised yet. The new system was initially scheduled to be implemented in 2018 but was pushed back and it is not yet implemented as of May 2019. The Malaysian government had plans for this system since 2016 but there are constant delays for the implementation of this system that is adding to the poor ridership of public transport for years. If the government does not prioritise these issues, the traffic condition will not improve in KL if the public transport system is not improved.

Issue 2(sustainability)

There is a trend of rapid motorisation in many cities especially in Asia and therefore congestion is increasingly becoming an issue. KL currently has major traffic congestion issues that require immediate intervention. There are as many as two million vehicles on the streets of KL daily. Congestion impairs productivity which causes economic costs in addition to pollution issues, which affects the public’s health. Currently, there are 184 cars per 1000 people in KL compared to 106 in Singapore. In addition, the modal share of public transport is approximately 20% of total person trips as opposed to Singapore where it is 70% or more. Vehicular emissions have become a major source of air pollution. Malaysia is placed 117th in terms of its air quality and the level of air pollution in KL far exceeds the World Health Organisation (WHO) Guidelines.

A study by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on transportation and the environment has indicated that it is necessary to reduce congestion before the pollution level increases to an extremely unhealthy and dangerous level. KL needs to increase the level of investment in public transportation and improve the existing system.

Traffic congestion leads to an increase in oil consumption and emission, which are posing a health hazard in urban areas. In Malaysia, there is no limit on the age of a motorised vehicle for it to be deemed as ‘road worthy’. Therefore, there are as many old cars on the road as there are new ones. There are no proper laws to make sure that these cars are properly regulated. There are certain types of engines, such as the two-stroke engine that will produce smoke and hydrocarbon at a much higher rate compared to four strokes engines. Motorcycles that have these two-stroke engines belong to 48% of the motor vehicle population in Malaysia (Road Transport Department, 2004). KL is most prone to serious air pollution compared to other parts of the country because of its geographical location and development rate (Department of Environment, 2003).

Subsequently, KL should take measures similar to Singapore in order to reduce the number of private vehicles on the roads. However, these measures cannot be taken until there is an efficient public transportation system in place. To improve the public transport modal share in Singapore, they have integrated their public transport system and provided better traveller information. In addition, Singapore has implemented strict restrictions on private vehicle use. Prior to these measures, Singapore was ranked as one of the most polluted Asian cities, but its pollution level is now below the WHO guidelines and have remained in this way for over a decade.

As the transport system in Singapore grows in usage and capacity, it is crucial to managing its environmental footprint. The transport sector currently accounts for almost half of the fine particles also known as PM2.5 in the air. Under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, Singapore has aimed to achieve a cleaner and greener transport system by 2030 by increasing the efficiency of public transport, reducing carbon emissions, managing the private transport usage and increasing fuel efficiency. According to the 2017 Sustainable Cities Mobility Index, Kuala Lumpur was ranked as some of the worlds least sustainable for mobility. KL ranked 95 out of 100 cities observed in the mobility index. KL’s low ranking shows that there is a lot to improve on when it comes to the reliability and efficiency of the city’s public transportation system, which also explains why many citizens still prefer to use their own private transport instead. KL will have to learn from Singapore to improve its ranking over the coming years. Recognizing the need for sustainability mobility will definitely increase the productivity of the residents and improve the economy as a whole.

In addition, fuel economy for both the private and public transport is also essential to resource efficiency. For mass public transport, LTA has a Green Framework for rail systems and is carrying out a lot of research and test-bedding of new technologies such as electric vehicles. The National Environment Agency and LTA have introduced the Vehicular Emissions Label (VEL) to replace Fuel Economy Label for cars. These measures are in place to improve the air quality and decrease the carbon emissions from the transport sector.

With an established and well operated public transportation system, the Singapore government has taken more measures to ease the city’s congestion issue by limiting the number of private vehicles on the road. To manage the private transport usage, there are a few measures such as the Electronic Road Pricing system (ERP), Off-Peak Car scheme and Park & Ride scheme that were implemented.

KL should adopt a few of Singapore’s measures such as the road pricing scheme. It offers a good solution to deal with traffic congestion and represents the best instrument to internalize the costs of externalities private vehicles owners impose on society. With road pricing, motorists will be more aware of the true cost of driving and traffic conditions will be improved. KL should also learn from Singapore that road pricing schemes should satisfy some criteria to be successful. Firstly, prices should be varied according to the level of demand. Secondly, road prices should act as a pricing mechanism to reduce congestion and not purely for profits, and the revenue collected from the road pricing scheme should stay in the transport sector (Santos,1999) to improve the public transport system. The Malaysian government should prove their loyalty to its people and its country so there would be a general public acceptance and support from the public to the government’s efforts.

Lastly, Singapore also has a COE quota system that helps to keep the overall vehicle number at levels supported by the road infrastructure and planned public transport developments. This system helps to ease congestion and pollution, from our green spaces to better air quality and keeps road usage costs manageable. Hence, there is a stark contrast between Malaysia and Singapore in terms of the age of our private cars. There is a significant number of newer cars compared to Malaysia because there is an ‘expiry’ date for the cars in Singapore that requires renewal. Having newer cars means that the cars are using newer engines that will require lesser fuel and emit lesser carbon waste compared to older cars in Malaysia that can be up 30 to 40 years old.

The transportation system will affect the city’s development. Hence, transportation policies must be evaluated with the city land use policies. However, many transportation planning such as traffic engineering and urban highway seems to rely on the delusion that issues of traffic congestion can be solved only solely by engineering measures that are independent of land use planning and measures. These processes and approaches will not work as the issue of traffic congestion since the location of new commercial, residential and other related development will decide future levels of travel and car dependence.

In Kuala Lumpur, land use measures alone are insufficient to promote sustainable transport considering the fact that the citizens still prefer the luxury and freedom of owning their car and choose to live in an area with large living space and garden which can lead to urban sprawl. The mass motorisation in Malaysia, especially in KL give rise to an unfairly structured city. Land use patterns and wide roads are arranged to cater to the convenience of private vehicles usage but at the same time, it makes walking and cycling dangerous and difficult.

In KL, property developers prefer to construct new towns on greenfield sites surrounding huge urban centres to meet the needs of the fast-growing population. This is evident by the proliferation of huge office blocks, housing estates, commercial and retail buildings within the periphery of big urban centres resulting in new townships developing along the major highway corridor. Without the presence of a highway network, these property developers will build their own highways to entice ad caters to prospective buyers. In a lot of these places, private cars have become a need due to the lack of public transport serving the area. These private vehicles will increase the demand for space for both parking and mobility.

With these greenfield developments, which led to urban sprawl, the population density is relatively low in Malaysian township with an average of around 30 to 45 people per hectare (Hashim, 2004). On the other hand, the urban density for KL is 58 people per hectare according to Kenworthy and Laube (Barter,2004). In Table _, it reflects how the low population density is unable to efficiently support the public transportation system and it also discourages the residents to walk to their destinations.

Integration of town and transport planning

Land uses and spatial distribution affects the traffic volume and trip making pattern. Effective integration of land use planning and transport planning is needed to reduce the need to travel. It is crucial that transport planning is an integral component of town planning. Likewise, long term transportation planning needs to embrace short term traffic planning in controlling the travel demand.

In Singapore, the Development Guide Plan (DGP) shows that there is a careful consideration of the integration of transport planning into the master plan (URA, 2003). The provision of the physical transport infrastructure aims to deliver maximum service for the residents. Outside of the Central Business District (CBD), large developments consisting of residential, commercial and industrial are normally clustered within walking distance of MRT to encourage greater commuting using public transport. In the recent Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) draft master plan, more housing is planned for the CBD and Marina Bay area so that people can live closer to their workplace and other amenities.

Unlike KL, the Singapore transport system is closely integrated into land use planning which includes institutional and physical integration among transport modes. KL should adopt this integrated plan so that there will be lesser unnecessary trips, increase in comfort and convenience and network efficiency which would reduce the traffic congestion and increase the use of public transport.


It is important to acknowledge that there is no perfect transportation model for any country to follow. Every country is different and it is important to always adapt different solutions to cater to their citizens. Kuala Lumpur still has a long way from implementing sustainable and effective transport measures.

Without a doubt, transport and mobility play a primary role in KL economic development. Although it is widely known that the transport sector has a major impact on the environment but many neglects the fact that it promotes mobility that can be translated into economic growth. Therefore, the Malaysian government should use a holistic approach encompassing social, environmental and economic problems and the involvement of various stakeholders should be assessed to ensure that successful implementation of sustainable transport.

The way towards sustainable transport should consider a change in the spatial pattern of travel, mode of travel and the need to travel. In a car-oriented such as Kuala Lumpur, activities tend to spread out, which forces people to travel further for the same level of accessibility as before. This shows that spatial separation of activities and the distribution of land uses will increase the need to travel. Hence, it is crucial to consider a spatial layout that will help support more environmentally friendly and sustainable mode of transport. For KL, it is very important to solve the issues mentioned in the report for the country to move forward together as a country.

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