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Thursday, January 1, 2009

> The controversial bus-station

It is easy to understand why a number of politicians in Pakatan Rakyat are being torn asunder by the relocation of the Klang bus station.

The Pakatan-controlled Selangor government has last Saturday ordered all city transit operations be moved from the old Klang bus station - which is in the town centre - to a newly-constructed bus station seven kilometres away.

Not surprisingly, Klang residents are up in arms - Klang Sentral in Jalan Meru, the new station, is located in the outskirts of the city.

"They (Selangor government) say the people are their priority but it is the people who now suffer... we are fed-up with all of them," said and enraged bus commuter, Ezuan Saw Abdullah, 53.

The old bus station now operates as a pick-up point and buses are not allowed to stop to wait for passengers there, resulting in shops in the area being affected by dwindling business.

Those adversely affected by the relocation, including bus operators and businesses, have tried repeatedly to negotiate with the Klang Municipal Council (MPK) and Selangor state representatives, but to no avail.

Hidden agenda behind relocation

The Klang Consumer Group Association (KCGA), which organised a protest yesterday, claimed there was a hidden agenda behind the relocation. 

"They are refusing to show us the agreement between the developer and the state... where is the accountability and responsibility that they talk about?" said KCGA’s general secretary A Latsoomanan.

The bus station issue has led to a rift among politicians in the area, including Kapar parliamentarian S Manikavasagam from PKR and Selangor state assembly speaker and assemblyperson for Sungai Pinang, Teng Chang Khim from DAP.

Teng had accused Manikavasagam of behaving like an "opposition" when he highlighted the relocation issue.

Manikavasagam, who is fondly referred to as Mike, had this week threatened to resign from his posts as Selangor PKR deputy chief and supreme council member.

Teng also crossed swords with his DAP colleague, Charles Santiago, the Klang MP.

Since the relocation of the station on Saturday, the bus operators as well as business owners have been staging small-scale protests.

The 50-year-old bus station in the city centre has been frequently blamed for traffic congestion in Klang as it was the key transit point for all those who commute from Banting and Kuala Selangor to Kuala Lumpur.

According to a memorandum by the protesters which was sent to the Selangor government, the new bus station, Klang Sentral, was initially meant to accommodate interstate express buses but after the March general election, MPK ordered local buses and taxis to also move to the new stop. 

Taxi drivers have since refused to do so as there is no proper allotment of bays and shelter in Klang Sentral. Their taxis are parked at a separate depot close to the old bus station.

Old bus station - a convenient stopping point

There were more than 1,500 small-scale traders and business operators who survive on the thousands of commuters who used the old bus station.

G Loges (left), a bus operation manager, said that 260 buses serving between 50,000 and 80,000 people stop at the old station daily.

"No less than one kilometre from here is the KTM Komuter station... people usually walk over here (the old bus station) and take the bus home. But now, they have to take a bus from here to Klang Sentral and from there go home," he explained.

"There are about four to five schools located near this area, and they are only a walking distance from here," said Loges.

According to him, before the relocation, commuters would only have to take one bus to the city. Now, however, all buses would have to go to Klang Sentral first.

"It is time consuming and what will happen to the school children? With the traffic jams, which is even worse now, they would have wake up at 4am to get to school on time," he lamented. 

"Not to mention, the (new) area is so deserted and what if something happens? There are no public amenities nearby, not even a police station," he said.

Higher cost, extra time

The gleaming Klang Sentral, which is located seven kilometres from the old station, is a build-operate-transfer (BOT) project funded by a private developer.

During non-peak traffic, the journey from the old station to Klang Sentral takes about 35 minutes.

Bus operators are allowed to charge up to 13 sen for every kilometre travelled. As such, commuters may have pay more with the extra seven kilometres.

"This is suppose to be the Klang Sentral," said Loges, referring to the old station as most of the government agencies and public amenities, such the general hospital, are nearby.

Loges also explained that the traffic congestion was not so much due to the buses in the old station but the ongoing road works around the Sultan Ibrahim bridge, which resulted in a bottleneck.

He added that the lackadaisical attitude of car owners who park on the sides of the road and illegal hawkers have also further aggravated the situation.

"This is just a matter of enforcement, instead they move the whole station," said Loges.

Traders have already suffered a dramatic lost of their income since the relocation.

Among the protesters yesterday was 37-year-old visually-impaired masseur, Tengku Amran Setia (left), who works in various parlours around the old bus station.

"My wife and I are both blind... I have been able to make a living with the help of all the people in this area and I have become accustomed to this place," lamented Tengku Amran, who would now have to go elsewhere in search of customers.

Compromise mooted

Satiah Mohd Zin (right) has been selling nasi lemak for the past 20 years at the sidewalk close to the bus stop and she said that although it has only been three days since the transfer, she has lost nearly half of her daily income.

"I usually make about RM200 to RM300 daily, but now I make only about RM100 because my customer are finding it difficult to stop over here," she said.

Asked if she would consider moving to the new stop, Satiah revealed that she could not possibly afford to pay the rental as a small spot for a makeshift booth would cost her RM2,000 a month.

Similar sentiments were expressed by M Parimala (below), who travels all the way from Sungei Way to sell flowers at the pavement near the stop as well. 

"I can't even make RM20 a day now," said the single mother, who has been surviving on the RM300 that she makes daily for the past six years.

"I have three children who are still studying and I also need to take care of my parents as well as my in-laws... with the money I make here, I'm able to maintain my two flower gardens and my family without any help from welfare services," said Parimala. 

Given that the new Klang Sentral has already been built, and the relocation completed, it is unlikely that the state government will back down on the issue.

However, one compromise being mooted is to make the old bus station a second alternative stop, turning Klang into a town with twin bus stations - Malaysiakini.