This is the queue at the KLCC station last week on Tuesday, at 5.55pm. The crowd builds up between 6pm and 7pm and commuters often need to queue for a while because arriving trains are packed. Pix by Owee Ah Chun

SOLUTION: Increase train frequency to reduce congestion at LRT platforms and passenger volume on trains.

WE are often told that gratefulness is the key to happiness. Count your blessings, they say. See the glass as half-full instead of half-empty and always seek the silver lining in every rain-bearing cloud.

But, when things get worse through events that should have made them better, we are often left wondering—are we being ungrateful or just shortchanged?

I am talking about the current state of the city’s Light Rapid Transit system, which is responsible for transporting hundreds of thousands of city dwellers to and from their workplaces every day.

In February, Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chairman Tan Sri Dr Syed Hamid Albar announced that there were 265,000 users of the Kelana Jaya LRT line alone, which runs from Gombak to Kelana Jaya.

In late June, 13 more stations opened, in a move that was hailed as an improvement to the public transportation system’s reach. From 24 stations, the track now has 37 stations all the way to Putra Heights.

On June 30, this newspaper carried a report on this new development, adding that Prasarana Malaysia Bhd said: “The public can now opt to take the Putra Heights LRT service to travel to the city and avoid traffic congestion.”

Little did they know of the massive human congestion at LRT platforms that ensued following this extension. Ask any regular Kelana Jaya LRT user and he will tell you that since then, travelling to work and coming home have become a laborious and stressful process, almost unbearable, on some days.

The additional 13 stations (that’s 50 per cent more than existing ones) are not supported with the frequency and train sizes that could handle such massive passenger volume. The result is an anxious, patience-trying waiting time, given that by extension, some 130,000 more people would use the train with these additional stations.

According to MyRapid website, between 7am and 9am, the train frequency is 3 minutes and during off peak times, it’s between 5 and 14 minutes. In Singapore, it’s 2 to 3 minutes and 5 to 7 minutes for the same period. Per hour, that’s 20 trains in Kuala Lumpur and 30 trains in Singapore during peak hours. And given the vast difference in train and station sizes, it’s no wonder our platforms are crammed.

UNHAPPY PEOPLE

You only need to go on Facebook to hear these grouses. Some passengers need to wait for 30 minutes before they could even board a train every morning. With the frequency similar to that before the expansion, naturally, the trains are packed to a point that even sardine cans have more space.

Commuters used to read books or e-book during their journey, but these days, they’d be lucky to find a standing spot during peak hours. Overall, you see frowning, unhappy faces, because not only are the trains packed to the brim, queueing already takes a while.

In heavy traffic stations such as KL Sentral, in the morning, passengers are not even allowed up from the escalator when the queue has built up to a point that there is no longer space to queue on the platform. There is a sign at the KLCC station to tell passengers to plan their journey as the management will control traffic flow from 6pm to 7pm on weekdays.

If LRT commuters need to go back later in the evening to avoid congestion, then the idea of public transportation easing urban mobility doesn’t hold water. You might as well drive to the city. The city’s urban congestion, it turns out, has spread from the roads to even LRT platforms.

UNPREDICTABLE TIME

One day last week, when I took the LRT in the morning, the train to Gombak was so congested that I had to wait for another one, four minutes away, despite MyRapid’s online information that says train frequency is 3 minutes. Four minutes of waiting during peak hour is long since crowd builds up fast.

That’s not all. By the time the train reaches KL Sentral, only five people managed to squeeze in through the door closest to me, leaving so many more unable to board. The scene reminds me of the sinking of the Titanic, and the filling up of lifeboats to save women and children.

While the platforms aren’t sinking ships, I suspect if commuters are often late for work due to the unpredictability of travelling time, their lives won’t be smooth sailing either.

Last Sunday, after the Standard Chartered KL Marathon ended, I boarded the train from the Masjid Jamek station only to realise that despite the massive scale of the event (some 35,000 people registered for the runs excluding spectators and supporters), the frequency was of normal weekend, resulting in cramped platforms and packed trains. I got into a two-car train, but the air-conditioning could be barely felt and I was just grateful my stop is a few minutes away. It would have spoiled my Sunday if I had to take a stuffy train all the way to Putra Heights.

Our LRT stations are small (compared to MRT stations in Singapore or Hong Kong) and they can only accommodate four-car trains, so the only way out of this daily human congestion is to increase train frequency and to use only four-car trains. Two car trains should only be used between high traffic stations, like KL Sentral and KLCC, for example.

I am not a train expert, but for someone who doesn’t drive and uses the LRT system daily, the current condition adds unnecessary stress to commuters’ daily lives, me included.

And, the saddest thing is, it only takes a short plane ride away to witness a rail system and service so advanced it doesn’t trigger heart palpitations, peak hours or otherwise.

In a rapidly moving world, we still have a very long way to go to ensure that our city’s train system helps ease the movement of commuters, not make their workday commute more stressful.

Until then, the call to get people to use public transportation so they walk more and as a consequence, live healthier, will remain a proposition only on paper.

Having lost 25kg of excess weight, the writer who is the editor of Women, Fashion and Health, believes that sustainable changes can lead to big differences.

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