If there is an award for an experienced tour guide, I am quite certain I would qualify for it. I have never worked with a travel agent or any firm in the tourism industry, but for a long time I have faithfully served my family as a tour guide for my wife and children travelling in many parts of the world. For a long time since I got married and started a family in the seventies, I have done just that, bringing my family on holidays on numerous occasions.
Our last trip was to Singapore, a small but a neat city state which actually needs no introduction to us Malaysians. Yes, all of us know Singapore and have some ideas of it depending on ones own interest. If you uphold a clean and orderly system, you will like it to your utmost, if you are a young man looking for a better paying job, you will definitely try your luck there, but if you have strong democratic ideals, believing in fair election, western values such as human rights, you may dislike this city state. If you are a Malay, you may like to visit it as a tourist, but definitely not to live there as a Singaporean. Most Malays I met often grumbled how unfairly they have been treated in the Chinese dominated Singaporean society.
After spending five days enjoying our tour of a state, which I can describe as seamless with first class public transportation system, world class tourism sites and infrastucture, world class education system, and very clean environment, it left no doubt in my mind what a developed and industrialised state should look like. On the last day, we left for our own capital city, the pride of our nation, ie. Kuala Lumpur.
As in other cities, I often chose to usher my family through the public transportaion system. Not that I enjoyed every moment of it, but more because I like to walk and burn up excess calories. I always have to persuade my family to follow suit, which was often accepted with open heart by my daughter, but with reluctance by others.
Negotiating our ways through the KL Public transportation system is quite a nightmare, although I have observed marked improvements recently. I noticed the common and new entry and exit counters to the stations are already in place. The system makes use of tokens which should be accepted by the entry and exit machine counters at all stations, be it Monorail, PUTRA or STAR lines or the public buses. This is the way it works in Singapore. So I confidently walked to a computerised ticketing machine to buy the necessary tokens costing RM2.40 each, for a one way trip from Imbi Station to Plaza Rakyat, transitting at the Hang Tuah Station.
To my surprise as we reached Hang Tuah I had to exit the station, could only drop my token (no other option) into the machine slot, which read it but retained it although my journey was’t complete yet. I checked with somebody on duty there who confirmed that my money could not be retrieved. He didn’t even seem to realise, or didn’t care, that the system was faulty. I am still wondering whether those machines installed at the stations in fact bear incomplete specifications, or rather on a positive note, the stations which are now being upgraded will have a simpler layout upon completion, as in Singapore, where a passenger needs not have to exit the station while on transit.
In Singapore, the transit passenger needs not leave the interchange station, meaning that he only needs to interact with the machine twice, first upon entering the starting station and later, upon leaving the final destination station. Very simple. He doesn’t even have to walk far to the next train, very often it is only boarded on the opposite side of the same platform. Whatever the case, every transfer happens within the same building.
Nevertheless, we continued with our trip to our final destination Plaza Rakyat. From there we took a short walk to the brand new and modern PuduRaya bus terminal. It was a pleasant and safe walk through a covered walkway which lead direct to the terminal building. Admittedly, this part of the of the trip including the transit station and the City bus terminal was up to my expectation.
Actually simple and flawless commuter station layout is common in large cities in western countries, particularly in the Paris Subway, although in London, their Underground Transport System is rather out dated and quite difficult for tourists to negotiate during rush hours.
Similarly other cities have efficient underground rail or bus services. Perth provides free bus service in the city central area and Gold Coast has a convenient and frequent public bus service to tourist destinations. In fact cities like Brussels in Belgium already had integrated public transportation system of rail, underground and bus service since many decades ago.
Back in Kuala Lumpur, one cannot help but notice long queues at the interchange stations, both at the automatic ticketing machine and at the manned ticketing counters. The automatic ticketing machine is another problem area. They are not always in tip top conditions and don’t seem to accept RM 5 and RM 10 notes.
These phenomena are not seen in Singapore even during peak hours as almost all the commuters there seem to use season tickets, making it easier for visitors like me to buy my tickets as well as help facilitate a smooth flow of commuters. This is something the administrators and planners at the KL transit system should take notice.
Once on board the LRT or the Monorail one has to face the inconvenience of overcrowded carriage, especially during peak hours. It is difficult to understand why it is so difficult to to add more carriages or lengthen the existing carriages so as to provide more convenience to the public. While the planned MRT system may be welcome, the upgrading of the existing system is more urgent. For sure these would cost nothing more than a fraction of the cost of MRT system which is being planned now.
As tourists travelling on our own, I find it easy to choose and get to any tourism destination in Singapore. First, there are plenty of useful tourism brochures available at any hotel counter, even at small hotels. The brochures provide all the necesary information including attractions details, entry ticket prices and how to get there. I decided to bring my family to The Singapore Science Centre and boarded MRT from a station close to our hotel at Orchard Road. At the destination station, I immediately noticed a large interchange bus station. I immediately knew which bus to take as I noted it earlier in the tourism brochure. However, I did not bother to take a bus as I managed to persuade my family to just walk to the site, which is not that far from the station.
Actually there are a few major bus interchange stations such as this one at strategic locations all over Singapore, and these are connected to the MRT system, serving as transit points between residential areas, work places, shopping centres, recreation and tourist centres and the city centre.
After nine days away on holiday, we are back in our home town Kuching, a beautiful, well lanscaped and very clean city. However, the public transport system here is still well below par, just like the rest of the Malaysian cities outside Kuala Lumpur.
Taxis in Kuching are largely in shabby conditions although number of executive blue taxis have been introduced lately. Buses have improved with the introduction of aircond City Link buses, though admittedly it would take slightly longer to attract more passengers or to increase trip frequencies. A plus for Kuching is, like KL, the opening recently of the New Kuching Central bus terminal.
The year 2020 is another eight years away. Within this period Malaysians should look forward to an efficient public transportation system expected in every city of a developed nation.