TBY talks to Mohd Azharuddin Bin Mat Sah, CEO of the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD), on the KL-Singapore rail line, peer-to-peer taxi, and land use.

 Mohd Azharuddin Bin Mat Sah
Mohd Azharuddin Mat Sah was appointed the CEO of SPAD on September 1, 2015. Prior to this, he was Director of Greater KL/Klang Valley and Urban Public Transport at the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), a division under the Prime Minister’s Department. He has held various positions in notable local organizations and multinational corporations, including Senior Vice President for special projects at Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Director of Public Sector Group at Microsoft Malaysia, and Senior Vice President for special projects at Royal Dutch Shell, where he was also posted to Shell International Petroleum Company Limited in London.

The KL-Singapore line is a cross-border project between SPAD and LTA. How is this cooperation working out?

It is going well; we deliver what we promise. The negotiations started a few years ago and it is a complex case because of the technical aspects, the financing, and the mapping. It is also important to note that 90% of the line is in Malaysia, and we had to ensure that we came up with an equitable arrangement in terms of financing. We agreed on a bilateral committee, overseen by SPAD and LTA, to ensure that the project will be executed properly

How are you addressing new developments on the taxi markets, with peer-to-peer taxi applications like Uber and GrabCar?

The taxi industry in Malaysia needs to be transformed. It needs to change to reflect changes in technology, as well as consumer interests and to be able to provide first class service. There have been many complaints from both tourists and locals about our current taxi service. Uber and Grabcar have jumped into this market with their commute sharing technologies. The key question is how to be fair. At the moment, they use unlicensed cars, and are, therefore, excluded from taxi regulations. This is a common problem around the world, with taxi drivers protesting everywhere. We have four principles of looking at this. The first is that we embrace technology, no matter if it is disruptive. We welcome competition and we support new players coming into the market. We also believe in a level playing field; what we impose on taxi drivers must also be adopted by any other new service, such as Uber or GrabCar—they must follow the law. The fourth is that we must be fair to taxi drivers and take their complaints seriously. If this business model is indeed outdated, then we should change it.

What is your role in regards to the responsibility of “right of way" in the context of land use?

Our first priority is rail alignment. The law enables us to acquire the land that the government has allocated for rail lines. We also talk to operators to ensure they include transit-orientated development in their construction plan that will enable us to capture the value of the land appreciation or even potential revenue in the future. It becomes endowment revenue, as we have learned it is possible to carry the costs by fares eventually. We increasingly look at such transport development: a mixed urban development is needed around rail stations. In the context of KL, the urban sprawl is not ideal because it still encourages the use of private vehicles, which we try to reduce. Integrated development is key here: if the development is 5km from the rail line, then there needs to be a connected bus network. We refer to this as “the demand, pull factor." We try to pull people into using public transport, improving the infrastructure. There is the push factor as well, like the price of parking.

What is your agenda for the year ahead?

Malaysia has achieved tremendous growth in the last five years, greatly supported by development in public transportation. I would like to see our current projects come to fruition in a safe and reliable manner and for us to start operations flawlessly. We need to gain the confidence of the greater public. I want to ensure that our planned projects, like the HSR and the East Coast Railway, will enter the next phase of development, and become finalized. We need to work on a sustainable financing model—we are building billion-dollar projects in the next five years and need to ensure that there are returns to the government. We have to remain competitive to induce people to use public transportation so we have to look at transit-orientated development and recoup the government's investment. For example, with the HSR, the mandate is not only developing the rail system but development around the stations as well.