The LRT Rush Hour Survival Guide
Every weekday, I would catch the LRT (light rapid transit) from the first station at Kelana Jaya to my work place at the country's tallest building, the Petronas Twin Towers. I reckoned it would be a lot easier to hop on a train than to drive to work. Well, in that aspect, I was not wrong. The train goes through 13 stops from the Kelana Jaya station to the KLCC station, taking up an average time of 35 minutes - stops and all! The train is pretty reliable so far. Well, at least in terms of punctuality. During rush hours, you can expect a train to pass through a station once every three minutes. However, because each train has only two cars and the number of people trying to get on one is triple that, one needs to be really "train savvy" to get on and off the train without wrinkling the newly pressed jacket or messing up the hair before work starts.
After almost 19 months of commuting, I have mastered the necessary skills. Needless to say, I am not particularly impressed with the Malaysian public transport, although I must say, the LRT is one of the better mode of transportation. However, we simply cannot compare the Malaysian LRT to the Thailand BTS or Singapore MRT. For one, the cars are narrow, unlike the BTS which is at least a few feet wider. The seats are on both sides of the car, facing each other. Naturally, standing room is right in the middle and is usually in two rows facing the seats. When the train is packed, you would be almost back-to-back with the person behind you. With that, you are left with no more walking room.
Now, on a good day, say at odd hours, the train serves a station once every seven minutes. That is quite okay and you will get plenty of seats to choose from. But on a crowded morning, the ventilation can get really bad especially on both ends of the train. Expect to sweat pretty profusely if you are not used to the mad rush. With that said, allow me to compile a list of do's and don'ts that could very well be a traveler's survival guide to riding the LRT in Malaysia during rush hours.
No 1: Getting a Seat - Why Is It Important
You can forget about securing a seat on the LRT during rush hour (tentative time, 7:45 am to 9:30 am and 5:45 pm to 7 pm, Mondays to Fridays). However, if you are boarding the train from the Kelana Jaya station, then it is a different story altogether. Basically, during rush hour, the train will be jam-packed by the time it reaches the second stop. First stop being the Kelana Jaya station. And it will get worst until it reaches the 13th stop, which is the KLCC station. If you cannot secure a seat when you board the train, then skip to tip No. 3 for guidelines on how to survive the ride standing up!
No 2: Which Seat to Choose If You Have the Choice!
This is actually more applicable to the morning rush hour than for the ride home. Where to seat? Only one word of caution for all! Sit as close to the exit as possible. Why, you ask? Well, the train is unmanned and the door closes automatically after a preset amount of time. If you are seated far from the exit, you may just miss the mark and be forced to alight at the following station. Worst, you could get stuck between the doors when the infuriating ding dong of the alarm sounds to indicate that the door is closing in 2 seconds. When you hear the chime, you have two choices. Leap out as fast as you can, or be a coward and miss your stop! Missing your stop is not the end of the world. Just alight at the next station and take the opposite train back to your intended stop. Of course, this is not exactly fun and can be a little embarrassing at times!
Note: If you do not have a choice with your seating arrangement, then get up at the stop prior to yours and start inching forward. With the crowd and all, you may just make it to the exit on time!
No 3: Where to Stand - Before Getting On the Train
Here, you have two choices. You can choose to stand on both ends of the station where you will board at the two ends of the train OR stand right in the middle. I personally prefer either one of the ends because there are more seats there compared to those in the middle. Besides, when you are on the far end, you only need to reckon with passengers coming from one direction, whereas if you board anywhere else, you have to fight for a spot with passengers on your left and right. However, be warned that the ventilation at both ends of the train are usually quite pathetic. The air-conditioning never seemed to reach the ends. It is a lot cooler being in the center. So, the choice is really up to you.
No 4: Where to Stand - If You Fail To Get A Seat
If you fail to get a seat despite tip No. 1 and 3, then you need to know the next survival skill. Yes, where do I stand if I fail to get a seat? The most important rule to this is... stay away from the doors! Try to get standing room somewhere along the aisle. The best spot would be as far away from the door as possible. Reason being, when the crowd gets bigger, you will be pushed and jostled and literally crushed if you are not used to the crazy Malaysian train passengers. Usually, there will only be two rows of passengers standing along the aisle, but on bad days, there could be three rows too with people looking over your shoulders and you could very well be staring at someone's underarms as he or she tries to get a grip on the handle for support. Of course, the very ends of the train are again the best spots, but those are hard to come by!
Another really good spot to stand is right smack in the middle of the train where the two cars joined! Usually (and I do not know why), passengers tend to avoid standing in the middle of the train. The only reason I could think of is the slight difficulty in keeping your balance while the train sways left to right. There are no handles for passengers to hold on to if you are standing in the middle. And for a newbie, the constant swaying of left to right due to the joints could give you a backache if you are leaning against the walls. However, that place has the best air-conditioning and it is usually not that crazily crowded. I would suggest this spot for a veteran only, although you are welcome to try.
No 5: Is Queuing important?
Now, this is the million dollar question. Of course, we as civilized people would always try our best to queue up and wait for our turn to board the train. However, there are some lesser folks who choose to ignore this simple rule that governs a widely known and socially acceptable behavior. Then you look around and realized that many well-dressed and definitely well-mannered yuppies/white-collared workers jumping the queue as well. Why is it that the moment the train door opens, passengers from the outside starts to rush in before the passengers on the inside of the train even have the chance to alight? I can attribute that to one fact. After many months of riding on the LRT, I too have succumbed to this "socially disgusting" behavior and consider it as OK. Remember that ding dong I mentioned earlier at tip No. 2? Ah, our lives and manners are governed by that infuriating ding dong. There have been many times when I have been good and well-mannered, waiting for the passengers to alight before boarding. However, after the massive crowd has alighted from the train, chances are, I would never make it onboard the train before the door closes. So in order to ensure a higher chance of getting onto the train, I had to do what I profess not to do. Just board the train anyhow...
No 5: To Push or Not to Push?
If you think that forcing your way into the train before all the passengers have alighted is a bad trait, what about pushing? Is it okay to push the person in front of you in order to make it into the train before the door closes? What about pushing hard just to get out of the train on time? I have seen many cases where the crowd just goes crazy. This is especially so when there is a train delay. After 20 minutes of waiting for a train to come, the crowd has swelled so badly that when the train eventually arrives, the crowd went mental. All that pushing and jostling just to get into the train is common practice. No one cares if they do not get a place to seat! They just want to get into the train, even if it means having to press their faces against the door or getting downright cozy with that strange man next to them. Pretty sick, if you ask me, but who wants to wait another 20 minutes for another train to come? I mean, this is highly possible in the event of a technical problem - which seems to be occurring rather frequently these days.
No 6: What bag(s) to carry?
This is not so much of an issue for men. Most men, I noticed, hardly even need to bring a bag with them. Usually, men will be carrying their briefcase or laptop bag. Common choices are laptop backpacks (Samsonite is making a bundle out of these people). However, for the women, handbags can be quite an issue. A backpack is usually too casual for a woman to carry to work. But to safeguard their belongings from potential pickpockets (yes, this is a true problem), I would advise women to carry sling bags. Preferably the type of sling bags where you can carry your bag in front of you. If you have to use a more formal looking bag for work, ensure your bag has a zipper and that you do not leave your Ipod, mobile phone, or wallet in plain sight. Clutch your bag firmly under your arm if possible. This will deter any potential pickpockets. Of course, a bag with a zipper will also save you a lot of trouble in the event you drop it. It will almost be a suicide attempt to be picking up items from the floor of a crowded train, not to mention embarrassing. Also, it is good to avoid bags with a short handle. A bag with a short handle basically means you will need a hand to hold it. This will leave you with only one free hand to hold the handles or to brace yourself in the event of a sudden jolt or stop! Think practical and you will not go wrong.
No 7: What to Do If You Do Not Want to Lose Your Seat?
I have seen some of the worst people on the trains and some of the best as well. There are people who refuse to offer their seats to pregnant women, senior citizens, or to the handicap. However, if you are feeling exceptionally selfish for the day and have just (with much difficulty) managed to snag a miraculous seat on the train, you can protect your seat until your destination with one simple trick! Pretend to be asleep! Simply close your eyes and pretend to doze off. Keep your eyes shut tightly until you reach your stop and no one would give you any malicious looks!
While some of the things I have written may not actually reflect all Malaysians in the same manner, but this is an honest take from my perspective. Since this is a survival guide, please use it with discretion. Have fun commuting and live well!