New MRT Corp CEO Says Getting Public To Leave Their Vehicles Behind The Daunting Challenge

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 – Mass Rapid Transit Corporation Sdn Bhd (MRT Corp) chief executive officer (CEO) Datuk Seri Shahril Mokhtar said the biggest challenge was not building the MRT, but getting people to use it. However, based on his replies to questions posed by The Rakyat Post  (the full transcript of which is available below) the new MRT Corp CEO appears confident the project and the staff are on the right track.

“The challenge is not just building the system. “Getting the public to leave their vehicles behind is the larger challenge. “The public will have to be convinced that the MRT can meet their needs just as well as their private vehicles, in terms of getting from point A to point B.”

At the same time, he thanked the public at large, the resident associations and road users for their inputs and patience regarding the traffic congestion, but expected that this year, things would go back to the way they were prior to the project. “Retro-fitting an urban rail system into a heavily-populated and built-up city is no easy task.

“The result is, of course, traffic snarls as we detour roads and close lanes during off-peak hours. “But the team at MRT Corp tries hard to manage this as well as they can, given the circumstances. “In 2015, as we progress towards the system works and major civil works decrease, these roads will be “returned” to their original sizes and condition, which I am sure will be welcomed by everyone,” said Shahril.

He added in just under two years, the Sungai Buloh Station to the Semantan Station route would be ready. “I hope the public will put this system to great use as this will mean that their sacrifices will have been worth it.” Shahril himself has previously been Prasarana Malaysia Bhd group managing director, Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) chief operating officer and was a general manager in both RapidKL and Penerbangan Malaysia Bhd.

He took over from former CEO, Datuk Wira Azhar Abdul Hamid, on Jan 5. The latter had resigned on Aug 19 last year after taking full responsibility shortly after three foreign workers were killed in a tragic accident at an MRT construction site. It was a rare move in Malaysia, but MRT Corp also went public with the cause of the incident as well as the steps that had been taken and were being taken to improve the work site safety.

QUESTION-AND-ANSWER SESSION WITH MRT CORP CEO

TRP: You are at the helm of what will be a major catalyst in the Klang Valley transportation system which could affect everything from property prices to traffic to business and employment. How do you feel about this?

Shahril: You are right. The MRT will be a major catalyst for the Klang Valley both in terms of making public transport as the preferred choice for the public and in terms of its impact on property prices as well as commerce. I feel it as an honour to be a part of this. The challenge is not just building the system. Getting the public to leave their vehicles behind is the larger challenge.

The public will have to be convinced that the MRT can meet their needs just as well as their private vehicles, in terms of getting from point A to point B. Businesses have the opportunity to re-evaluate their locations to benefit both their employees as well as their bottom lines. As a game changer, the MRT is a major one. But this can only be realised if the public and the corporate sector buy into this.

TRP: What is the status of the project?

Shahril: I am blessed in that Datuk Wira Azhar Abdul Hamid (the former CEO) has taken the project to more than 57% completion. This is slightly ahead of the curve. Despite the hiccups faced by the project — from public opposition, construction challenges that come with city projects, a couple of incidents at the sites — the Sungai Buloh-Kajang Line is progressing well. I remain confident that the deadlines set earlier for the line will be achieved.

TRP: You had a town hall meeting with the staff of MRT Corp recently. What were the major points you were trying to get across to the staff? How do you think it went?

Shahril: I think it went as well as it could have. My aim from the short session was just to say hello and to address queries that come about in leadership change in any organisation. People need to be reassured that while the captain has changed, the goals remain the same. That is what I told the staff. I credited the management team for its performance thus far and encouraged all to keep working as hard as they have to bring the project to fruition. 

Of course, I explained how I work, which is the “open door, consultative” style. I am a firm believer in teamwork. A boss can only be as successful as his team is. I also reaffirmed the corporate ethos of Openness, Teamwork, Honesty, Excellence and Responsibility. It has gotten us to where we are, so it’s a good ethos to keep following.

TRP: How does your management style differ from previous MRT CEO Azhar Abdul Hamid? What are your thoughts on him and do you feel any pressure over the circumstances of his resignation?

Shahril: I wouldn’t compare. Everyone has a different style of leadership and as I stated earlier, the goals remain the same for the company. As much as the board disagreed with Datuk Wira Azhar’s decision, it was his decision and we needed to respect it.

TRP: In general, as its new CEO, what do you feel you will bring to MRT Corp and do you see any changes in terms of priorities for the corporation?

Shahril: I have been in transportation since 2004. Specific to public transport, this has been my bread and butter since my RapidKL days, so I guess you could say I have the requisite experience. The experience with RapidKL and SPAD will serve me well here, although MRT Corp is owner developer (as opposed to the former being an operator and the latter a regulator).

As I stated earlier, MRT Corp’s goals remain. What I would like to see though is the involvement of more local engineers in the project, especially with Line 2 now in active planning stage for kick-off. MRT Corp has to be the platform where we learn from the vastly experienced foreign expatriates whom we have on our payroll. The locals who are second liners must learn from this group and prepare to lead themselves in the future. This capacity building for the nation is a key goal for me.

TRP: MRT’s previous CEO resigned over the tragic accident which killed three workers last year. Will you be making any changes to workplace safety aside from the changes made following the incident or were they to your satisfaction?

Shahril: I don’t want to belittle the seriousness of the incidences that have occurred, but while MRT Corp’s safety record isn’t perfect, it is commendable. For a project of this size, it has been managed well. But there is always room for improvement. As a member of the board, when we reviewed the Aug 18 incident, we were satisfied with the remedial actions taken by the parties concerned.

The contractor removed the personnel involved, and our project delivery partner re-worked the safety systems. It is a continuous process to improve the safety standards and at the weekly, monthly and high-level quarterly reviews, this is a major item on the agenda. I can only see us improving if we keep doing these reviews objectively.

TRP: Aside from safety concerns, traffic jams and re-routing due to the MRT project have had a serious effect on the day-to-day lives in the Klang Valley. For the most part, Malaysians seem resigned to this temporary challenge, but do you have anything to say to them?

Shahril: I would say thank you — a big thank you to the public at large, the residents associations and road users. Their inputs (and their patience) have helped us along. Retro-fitting an urban rail system into a heavily populated and built-up city is no easy task. The result is of course traffic snarls as we detour roads and close lanes during off-peak hours. But the team at MRT Corp tries hard to manage this as well as it can, given the circumstances.

If you look at the Jalan Ma’arof–Jalan Damansara interchange, near Pusat Bandar Damansara, you will see that despite the narrowness of the work area, sandwiched between a major highway and a residential area, the progress is amazing. Yes, this was achieved with the city dwellers undergoing road closures and detours, but both sides persevered.

In 2015, as we progress towards the system works and major civil works decrease, these roads will be “returned” to their original sizes and condition, which I am sure will be welcomed by everyone. The reality is in 23 months, the first phase of service from Sungai Buloh Station to the Semantan Station in front of our office (Jalan Dungun) will start. I hope the public will put this system to great use as this will mean that their sacrifices will have been worth it.

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