Free transport: Who benefits from Malaysia's free train initiative

MRT and LRT users may benefit in the future

A picture of a mode of transport, the MRT, in Malaysia
Malaysia's new "MyRailLife" initiative only applies to trains operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) at the moment, but there are talks to include other modes of transport as well. (Photo: Getty Images)

By Qishin Tariq

Malaysia has rolled out a free rail pass for school students and persons with disabilities (PWDs). And best of all, there could be even more free rides coming our way — if, that is, studies find them to be feasible.

Still, and regardless of whether those materialise, complimentary, limitless train commutes for an estimated half a million travellers this year are a good beginning.

Kids and PWDs ride for free

Launched by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB), the country's main railway operator, and effective 15 Feb, the MyRailLife free-ride pass is set to benefit all students, from Standard One (ages six-seven) to Form Six (ages 18-20), as well as persons with disabilities registered with the Welfare Department.

Essentially, what the targeted groups are entitled to are unlimited rides for routes throughout the Klang Valley, as well as the North Sector Komuter (Perak to Penang) and KTMB Eastern Shuttle (Pahang to Kelantan).

Passes take on the form of a physical Komuter Link card for those in the Klang Valley, while other commuters can use the digital KTMB Integrated Ticketing System (KITS).

And to prove one is qualified for the free rides, commuters need a Passenger Name Record (PNR) number, which can be obtained via KTMB’s website, the KITS app, or by visiting a ticketing counter at a KTMB station.

Incidentally, when the initiative was originally announced by Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke, the plan was to limit the rides to PWDs and only students in school uniforms, aged up to 12 years.

However, KTMB sources note that expanding the initiative to all students, and having them pre-register rather than being required to wear uniforms when travelling, made it more practical.

Not for senior citizens, but...

For the moment, MyRailLife isn't being extended to other vulnerable groups, such as the B40 (bottom 40 per cent) economic group or the elderly and/or retirees, with Loke noting that transport companies and the ministry would need to "work within their budgets".

A picture of Anthony Loke, the transport minister of Malaysia in 2023
Launched by Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke, the "MyRailLife" free-ride pass is set to benefit all school students as well as persons with disabilities. (Photo: Ministry of Transport Malaysia)

However, the elderly at least are currently eligible for a 50 per cent discount on all KTMB's services via the Senior Citizen Card, including on KTM Intercity trains that run between the states.

Note, too, that the initiative is being limited to KTMB trains for now while the Transport Ministry studies the feasibility of extending it to other public transport services, such as Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) trains as well as buses.

However, Loke has said he is in talks with Prasarana Malaysia Bhd — the government-owned company that runs the LRT, MRT, monorail and Rapid Bus — on the cost of applying the MyRailLife initiative to its services.

No charge on the LRT and MRT?

For the record, ridership on Prasarana's transport services — all its public transport in Klang Valley as well as the Penang and Kuantan buses — hit an all-time high last year, with a whopping 21.67 million commuters reported in August 2022.

Thus, the potential savings for Malaysians should this free ride initiative is extended would be significant.

Fares currently cost between RM1.20-7.70, with most fares averaging RM3.50. And there's the option of purchasing a monthly pass — aptly named the My50 Unlimited Travel Pass — for RM50 a month.

This means that MyRailLife could potentially save someone currently holding a My50 pass RM600 a year.

Incidentally, all members of the public do get some free perks from time to time.

For example, the government briefly offered free public transportation for a month on both KTMB and Prasarana services in June 2022, coinciding with then-prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob officiating the opening of the first phase of the MRT Putrajaya line.

This move cost the Federal Government RM155 million in total.

There have also been one-off free rides offered in conjunction with important events, such as during the 15th General Election in 2022, or a week of free rides on the Kelana Jaya LRT line after the train line faced disruptions for five days in November 2022.

Studying, trialling and paying for free rides

Practically, financing of the MyRailLife pass initiative, which is set to cost KTMB RM4 million a year, has been made possible by the suspension of the Subang Skypark-KL Sentral train services that saw less than encouraging response and ran at a cost of a whopping RM15 million annually.

But the larger purpose here is to alleviate some of the financial burdens of everyday Malaysians who have been battered by skyrocketing prices, including high transport fares.

The government estimates, thus, that the MyRailLife free-ride pass could save commuters up to RM240 a month. Not a small sum at all.

Yet while Putrajaya — and, in the present case, KTMB — deserves credit for the move, it must be noted that free public transportation models have long been studied and trialled in Malaysia.

In fact, complimentary rides for some services have been in place for more than a decade, with Kuala Lumpur City Hall's (DBKL) GoKL free city bus service being one of the first in 2012.

The GoKL service is a hop-on and hop-off line that initially focused on tourist attractions, shopping malls, and entertainment areas.

However, the fleet of some 60 buses now serves 13 routes, with Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Mahadi Che Ngah recently revealing plans to add two new routes each year to service residential areas and public housing communities.

For the record, the tiny European nation of Luxembourg was the first to make all public transport — trains, trams and buses — free, as of 1 March, 2020. In October, last year Malta followed suit with free services that were even available without charge to visiting tourists.

Larger European countries have also been working on the idea, with Spain making some trains free for three months between September and December last year, and Germany, too, rolling out a subsidised budget travel pass priced at €9 (RM42.75).

Station upgrades in the works

Beyond free train rides for PWDs and students in Malaysia, the Transport Ministry indicated that it is also working on improving the state of stations in regard to accessibility for the former group.

This, the government confirmed, will include adding lifts to make it easier for those with disabilities to cross platforms.

Nevertheless, what remains unclear is when some of the other long-standing issues with KTMB's services, such as longer travel time and limited trains, will be completely ironed out.

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