PUTRAJAYA has spent billions of ringgit to boost public rail transport in the Klang Valley but it is still more expensive than driving, DAP lawmaker Ong Kian Ming said, adding that daily ridership dipped from about 600,000 in the first quarter of 2014 to about 550,000 in Q2 of 2017.

The Serdang MP said affordability was key to increasing ridership along with reliability and accessibility, and a “game changer” was needed to improve public rail transport in these areas.

“To really be a ‘game changer’, PM Najib must make public rail transport affordable (for example, by introducing a monthly train and bus pass for let’s say, RM100), reliable (avoid delays and disruptions) and accessible (solving the last-mile connectivity problem),” Ong said in a statement today.

Citing a letter from a rider which was published in The Star, Ong said using trains is not necessarily cheaper than driving.

“It costs this person RM9 for a trip from Puchong to Sunway via the Sunway BRT or RM18 for a return trip. Throw in the parking at the LRT station (RM4) and fuel, this writer estimated that it would cost him RM25 a day to take the LRT compared with RM10 to drive (including toll costs and free parking at his office).”

Ong said a fare hike for the LRT and KTM Komuter resulted in drop of ridership from Q4 2015 to Q1 2016.

He said the daily ridership figures have yet to recover from this steep fare hike despite the LRT extension in the middle of 2016.

However, Ong, expects a spike in daily ridership for LRT and MRT when the Q3 2017 are released later this year because of the 50% discount during the Sea Games in August and also the full MRT Line 1 from Sg Buloh to Kajang.

“We should take these ridership figures with a pinch of salt.

“A more realistic gauge of daily ridership would be the Q4 2017 figures when the discounts are taken away and the people can estimate to see if it is worthwhile for them to take public rail transport instead of using their own vehicles.

“As we have seen, ridership figures decrease significantly once the ‘free’ or ‘discount’ period is over,” said Ong.

He cited the daily ridership figures for the RM634 million Sunway BRT, which were high in June and July 2015 at 11,295 and 12,372 respectively, when the service was free.

“The ridership figure then plunged to 4,616 in August 2015 when fares were introduced which cost, on average, RM1 per km for a 5.4km BRT route. The high fares charged were even criticised by Sunway chairman, Jeffrey Cheah.”

Another example from Ong was the daily ridership of MRT Line 1, which dropped from 16,368 in Q1 2017 to 12,622 in Q2 once the novelty of taking the MRT wore off and the free one-month trial period was over.

Another reason for public’s reluctance to use public rail transport, Ong said, had to do with timing and reliability.

“It takes someone about 30 minutes to drive from Puchong to Sunway but it would take about an hour for the same trip using the LRT and the BRT.”