Around February this year, the rail structures near Bandaraya LRT were found having serious damage, resulting in sectional suspension of the Ampang/Sri Petaling LRT Line. The core issue was believed to be caused by unexpected soil movement due to works at an adjacent construction site, which had then been issued an emergency force-stop notice.
Transport Minister, Anthony Loke, reported that the construction work at the said site started before the relevant constructors obtain consultation with the Land Public Transport Agency (APAD). The action was required under the Railways (Railway Protection Zone) Regulations 1998. The policy stipulates activities that may pose risks to railway structures are subject to restrictions and regulations, and must not commence without written approval from APAD.
In order to remedy the travel chaos, the authorities quickly arranged alternative bus services (and then later, shuttle train services) to help the public commute in the affected area. Loke mentioned in his report that the repair will take up to seven months as comprehensive repair works are required at the damaged site. That news certainly did not sit well with many.
For a typical 9-6 corporate employee like myself, to sandwich my enormous workload at office with two crazy sardine-train sessions really drains me to the core.
At the time of writing, my morning train ride would involve cruising along the Sri Petaling Line to Hang Tuah LRT Station, where I am required to switch to the opposite platform for a two-stop shuttle that would take me to Masjid Jamek LRT Station. Then, I would take a 10-minute walk to my office (bus service is available as an alternative to the walk, but it will take up more travel time due to the morning road traffic). My initial travel route to work typically took only 45 minutes of train ride without having to change platforms or fight for a seat. Now, it would take me almost 1 hour and 15 minutes, on top of the need to change platforms at an incredibly crowded station, just to get to my office. These days, fighting for a seat has even become a routine.
While I applaud and appreciate the authorities' effort in making transition and compensating arrangements as smooth as possible to minimise friction in commuting, the experience of needing to fight huge crowds almost every day also highlighted to me the bad public transport etiquette among our people.
Here are some of the bad behaviours I have observed and experienced at the stations or on the LRT coaches every time I commute to office, most of which I continue struggling to fight against even till today:
Commuters walk with little urgency. At peak hours, people struggle to get on the first available shuttle from Hang Tuah LRT Station to Masjid Jamek LRT Station because the entire crowd in front of them move slowly, only to need to waste up to an additional 15 minutes for the next coach or shuttle to arrive. Yes, safety first, but not arriving late at work is also a priority! While the elderly, sick, pregnant and disabled should be excused from taking their sweet time, what about the other able-bodied youngsters?
Commuters cut queue from the side when entering train coaches. Now, some people just have too much urgency. As queues waiting for the next train to arrive get longer, a common tactic used is to slide oneself in from the sides of queues once the train doors open- how despicable! Many people also tend to crowd in front of the train coach entrances just to squeeze themselves in upon the first opportunity, even when this blocks the way of passengers attempting to get out of the coaches.
Priority seats - who are they for? Now that we have entered the train successfully, the first task to complete would be to secure a seat. Since seats are undersupplied given the peak-hour crowds are huge, priority seats which are meant for the elderly, disabled, pregnant or those bringing young children, are taken up in a heartbeat too. Now the problem is, if an elderly shows up, he or she does not necessarily get offered by someone occupying a priority seat, which should be the case! Those who occupy priority seats should know that those seats come with an unspoken consent to be given up for the entitled. Another interesting observation I have is that some of those entitled for priority seats, in a crowded train, do not necessarily approach the occupiers of priority seats. The first thing they do upon entering the train is to approach occupiers of non-priority seats instead! Shouldn't it be a common sense that priority seat occupiers have consented to giving up their seats for the entitled in the first place?
Standing passengers hoard space unethically and inefficiently. At Hang Tuah LRT Station, some passengers deliberately stand close to the train door after entering the coach. Since the shuttle only works for two stops, and all passengers would have to get down at Masjid Jamek LRT Station, those closer to the door will be able to leave the train first. However, this often gives the false impression that train coaches are full, and people late to arrive at the platform would not dare to squeeze themselves in, leading to them having to wait for the next shuttle, which arrives in 10-15 minutes. And along the way when seat occupiers leave the train, emptying single seats, I sometimes observe those standing close to them 'act' as if they do not need the seats and would love others more entitled to have them. However, the trains are often so crowded that the so-called 'entitled' or even anyone interested in taking the seats are not even able to get to them. These people should really just occupy the seats to help free up the standing space. I call those seats 'The Paiseh (translates to 'shy' in Hokkien) Seats'- which are literally inefficient allocation of resources.
Some passengers speak or play audio from their phone loudly. Public transport remains a public space. It is rude to force others to listen to your favourite music, conversations or drama audio. However, what I thought is a common sense surely is not quite common for some people.
Some passengers cough or sneeze without a mask. Covid might be mild nowadays but it is not fully gone! It is irresponsible for people to not put on masks on the train when they display flu-like symptoms.
*Sigh* What to do? I do not think it takes a sectional suspension of the LRT line for us to discover bad train etiquette. Instead, I believe having to deal with frequent large crowds highlighted this social limitation. Perhaps all I can do is just to avoid peak hours? Or spread awareness like what this article is meant for.
Here are some tips to help you survive the train chaos (and make life slightly easier for the other commuters), from my personal experience:
Try to move fast and get out of people's way. This is especially when changing trains or switching platforms. Of course, safety must remain a priority, but please keep in mind that urgency is essential during peak hours too.
Approach priority seats (occupied or not) first if you are part of the entitled categories. If they are not available, remember that seat-takers who are not entitled have consented to spare their seats for you. Malaysians are educated enough to know who those priority seats are meant for.
Spare your seats for the entitled. If you occupy a seat, regardless if it is labelled as a priority seat or not, spare it when those who need it more than you are in sight. We can't be relying on all those who occupied priority seats to give up their seats automatically or willingly, so let's take the initiative to be kind.
Fit yourself into the deepest part of the coach if you do not have a seat. Avoid lingering at the door area which helps build the false impression that the coach is full even when it is actually not. Also avoid standing in front of a 'Paiseh Seat'- if you want it then take it; if you don't, just make way for others to occupy it.
Make more space by changing the way you place your bag. If you do not have a seat and have to endure packed sardine situations, instead of carrying your bag the normal way, consider putting it between your legs or on your feet. This way, you create more standing space which in turn allows more people to fit into the train.
Keep your mask on! Covid is still lying around. This is especially for those who have a tendency to sneeze or cough. Keep your germs to yourself before someone reports you to the authorities!
All in all, most Malaysians these days are educated so let's all behave so. Public transport etiquette could be often ignored but it is so important as it helps create a comfortable environment for our fellow commuters and builds foreign tourists' good impression on our public facilities. I hope that everyone stays safe while using our public railway transit. As September approaches, I am sure we will get back our normal train routine soon.
By, Euan Thum, Journalist, Charisma Movement 22/23.