YS CHAN on Land Transport
THE Land Public Transport Commssion’s (SPAD) proposal to introduce motorised three-wheelers into suburban areas has sparked a heated debate.
Some are against the idea of adding even more vehicles to the congested urban landscape, others say “tuk tuks”, as they are called in Thailand, is a solution for localised transport, particularly for the elderly and those who are unable to move around independently.
For sure, there are pros and cons in anything new, and replicating what works for other countries may produce different results here.
However, the key to success of any project will not depend on feasibility studies but on implementation and operations.
The challenges are many if SPAD decides to introduce our version of tuk tuks as an additional mode of public transport.
Apart from the Road Transport Department (RTD) giving approval based on technical
specifications, will there be a restriction of models later when a local company is licensed to manufacture the “national tricycle”?
And instead of allowing engines that run on diesel, petrol or natural gas, all approved models should be battery-powered as poorly maintained diesel engines can be smoky and souped-up petrol engines would induce driver to speed.
Our suburbs would resemble cowboy towns if motorised tricycles are operated like mini-buses of old, whereas electric vehicles are operated with elegant silence.
These electric tricycles or e-trikes require insurance cover by law. Before detariffication scheduled for next year, can they be placed in the taxis category under the existing motor tariff?
Since it began operations four years ago, SPAD has not issued any new taxi permits.
The 1,000 Teksi 1Malaysia (TEKS1M) permits granted to individuals were converted from those surrendered by taxi companies.
Whenever the media highlighted the plight of cabbies, taxi companies were targeted as rent seekers, forgetting that these drivers chose to work under conditions they were complaining about.
Also, not many people are aware that close to 50 percent of all taxi permits are individually-owned, and many of these taxis are not driven by the owners or that the permits have been rented out.
As such, issuing individual permits for e-trikes is no guarantee that services would be better and existing taxi companies will just continue with their rental-purchase schemes.
Unless SPAD is prepared to police these new e-trikes 24/7, it would be better to appoint concessionaires for different zones and these vehicles rented out on shift basis.
This is to ensure that riders do not choose to work whenever they like and fares are not pilfered as is widely practised in one-man operation stage buses in the Klang Valley.
The fares can be standardised on fixed routes with extra charges for passengers who wish to be dropped off or picked up elsewhere within a certain radius.
These concessionaires should be held accountable for their drivers and also to meet the demands of commuters in their respective zones.
The e-trikes should be fully maintained by the company and drivers given special training in vehicle handling, and the safety and security of passengers.
During peak hours, bus drivers or conductors have not been successful in preventing overloading of stage buses.
It would be harder for door-less e-trikes. As such, there should be no compromise from the start so that no overloading becomes the norm; otherwise it would be difficult to educate passengers later.
Any vehicle that is easy to get off is good target for pickpockets and snatch thieves and they could easily masquerade as passengers.
Installing a video surveillance system on the vehicle with a camera pointing inwards and another at the road ahead would deter street crimes.
Adding a global positioning system would enable the operator to monitor their vehicles’ movements and developing a phone-app would allow residents to track their whereabouts.
These new mode of transport will be a boon in the suburbs and provide the much needed connectivity to and from train stations.
They are not meant to compete with metered taxis in the city centre or trips to the airport.
If this is made clear from the start, there will be less hostility from cabbies when e-trikes are on the road.