KUALA LUMPUR: The increasing complexity of Klang Valley’s urban rail network over the coming years has prompted Prasarana Malaysia Bhd to proactively introduce a new category of personnel called service ambassadors, also known as station or rail ambassadors, to assist commuters.

In a launch event at the Kampung Batu MRT station here yesterday, Prasarana CEO Mohd Azharuddin Mat Sah said his company recognises the need to enhance the commuting experience, and hence, the need to provide additional touchpoints for the public, some of whom could be bewildered by the increasingly packed transit map.

By next Thursday, a dozen new MRT stations under the first phase of the Putrajaya MRT network will begin operations, with three of them being interchange stations with the network operated by KTM Bhd (provider of Komuter and ETS services).

By next January, 23 more stations under phase 2 of the Putrajaya MRT will open for service, and by the first quarter of 2024, 26 stations, two of them interchanges, of the LRT3 from Johan Setia to Bandar Utama, will open for service.

In about eight years from now, several dozen stations under the MRT3 network are expected to enter into service.

The network of train stations operated by Prasarana through its subsidiary Rapid Rail and Rapid Bus easily exceed 100, and when combined with the existing KTM network, the transit map will look quite complicated in a few years’ time.

And this excludes the bus routes – expected to run into the hundreds in future – that support the urban rail network.

For a start, these service ambassadors will be placed at 19 train stations, and they will be decked in a sash and cap that say “ASK Me”.

These stations are Masjid Jamek, IOI Puchong Jaya, Bandar Tasik Selatan, Bandaraya and Maluri – four of them are interchanges on the Ampang LRT.

On the Kelana Jaya LRT, the stations with ambassadors are KL Sentral, Pasar Seni, Wangsa Maju, KLCC and Subang Jaya.

On the KL Monorail, stations with ambassadors include Bukit Bintang, Imbi, KL Sentral and Hang Tuah, while the Kajang MRT will have ambassadors at Bukit Bintang, Maluri, Pasar Seni, Muzium Negara and Cochrane.

“At the moment, the programme is for rail, but we will expand it to include bus hubs and the Sunway BRT to eventually cover all 149 stations in seven months,” said Azharuddin.

Further enhancements to the urban rail network will happen today when Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong, Azharuddin, together with KTMB’s top brass, announce some improvements for KTMB’s Skypark Link train that takes commuters from KL Sentral to Subang Airport, while passing next to the Subang Jaya LRT on its way to the airport.

Observers of public transport note that service ambassadors are a common feature in developed countries, with the transit map often appearing as a challenging maze for visitors, occasional users or even some senior citizens.

In the United Kingdom, there are community ambassadors (either paid or voluntary) to increase awareness and travel on local transport, bridging gaps between poorly integrated communities and the transport system by identifying and confronting barriers to using public transport.

These barriers are not merely physical, as they include not knowing how to read a timetable or buy a ticket, lack of confidence in using the system, or never having used local travel, language problems, or unfamiliarity with destinations and supporting amenities.

“A glance at the London or Tokyo Metro map, and even Singapore or Hong Kong’s, is rather challenging for occasional or new users of the network,” said Kelvin Khew, a rail enthusiast who is familiar with Asian rail networks.

“In this spirit, getting in early in to endeavour of enhancing commuter experience is a laudable one, and is a step in the right direction, where Malaysia also struggles with the lack of walkability and wayfinding around public transport hubs,” said Khew, a regular train user all over the region.

At the same event, Prasarana also jointly unveiled commuting insurance for public transport users backed by the American International Group Malaysia Insurance Bhd (AIG).

This free insurance, offered over the next three months beginning June 16, includes a hospitalisation plan and daily cash allowance of up to RM50 a day (up to 14 days) if one is warded in a hospital for diseases that include hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), dengue and dengue haemorrhagic fever, avian flu, Ebola, tuberculosis, measles, viral encephalitis (Nipah and Japanese), malaria, plague, rabies, MERS-CoV, zika and Covid-19.

The deal is open only for Malaysians aged from 18 – 60, with terms and conditions available at www.myrapid.com.my.

At the same event, AIG Malaysia CEO Antony Lee said the offer serves as an incentive to encourage more people to use public transport.

“We at AIG Malaysia are thankful for this opportunity to serve public transport users here together with Prasarana. It is a huge responsibility to offer a protection plan as the country shifts towards the endemic phase of Covid-19,” he added.