Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The RapidKL Story

"Mummy, mummy! Where do buses go when they die?"

This is a typical RapidKL bus. You can see them all around the city of Kuala Lumpur.

They started showing up sometime towards the end of 2004 and took over the public transport business in the city by the end of 2005 (after the merger with the Rapid Group that also operates the entire LRT system in the city).

Each of these buses cost RM500,000 or so. The earlier batches of buses were all Mercedes-Benz. My family and I found it very convenient and comfortable to commute by the RapidKL buses when they were first introduced. A RM2 ticket can last you the whole day.

However, like all good things in Malaysia, they did not last very long.

Formerly courteous and responsible drivers started to get rude and inconsiderate.

Bus routes were changed again and again - especially in view of the fact that they wanted commuters to pay the extra RM1 for the "Tempatan" feeder buses to take us into our housing areas. [Previously the "Utama" buses like U63 and U67 covered even the minor routes but now we have to take the additional T522, T523 and T524 in order to get home. The RM1 is a small price to pay - if the feeder buses bother to show up at all! It's the inconsideration and inconvenience that get to us daily commuters!]

Bus schedules became very erratic. When the RapidKL system was first launched, they proudly displayed posters everywhere announcing that buses come around every 15 minutes. They've since taken down those posters and signs. I've had so many experiences of waiting from 45 minutes to 3 hours for a bus to show up. The feeder buses are the worst. I waited for close to an hour an a half for a T523 bus to show up - and when they do, four of them turn up at the same time! Whatever happened to this simple thing called a "bus-schedule"?

The number of buses were also getting fewer and fewer. Especially during the peak hours of 5pm to 7pm daily. Therefore most buses are packed. Passengers are squeezed into the buses like sardines all the way home - sometimes a two to three hour journey due to the traffic jams. Also, if you look around, you'll see that the number of foreigners and immigrants taking the buses far outnumber the locals. In other words, immigrants are increasing and buses are decreasing in Malaysia. Go figure!

On top of that, after waiting for hours before a bus comes along, you finally see one. But the driver just whizzes by without stopping. You notice that it's an empty bus with a sign "Depot" - meaning that the bus is being sent for maintenance or repairs. RapidKL started buying cheaper buses manufactured in China instead of the original Mercedes Benz models. This resulted in constant breakdowns and increasing maintenance of the buses. Who suffers? The passengers waiting in the rain after a long day at work...

In view of the evils of our bus system, the natural question to ask is this:

"Mummy, mummy! Where do buses go when they die?"

And we have an answer - from the featured articles of The Malay Mail yesterday and today.

Dead RapidKL buses go to Antara Gapi, Batang Kali and Sungai Buaya, Rawang.

In a time when rising prices of oil and rice are putting a toll on our daily lives, the Rapid Group can afford to dump about 1,000 of their buses (value estimated at RM500 million) in the Bus Graveyards at Batang Kali and Rawang!

The waste is one thing. Where did RapidKL get the funds to buy their buses in the first place? How is it that this company is rich enough to dispose of RM500 million worth of dead buses? What about the problems caused to the unfortunate residents of Sungai Buaya who are constantly complaining that the Bus Graveyards are a breeding ground for mosquitoes, stray dogs and criminals?

[Hint: I was told that the infamous Khairy Jamaluddin, the PM's son-in-law, has a 20% stake in RapidKL and Rapid Penang. Think you can connect the dots from here?]

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