The Star, 31 July 2014 - Hitting the brakes on congestion

The Star, 31 July 2014

With traffic jams becoming worse in the Klang Valley, more people are considering public transportation to get to work.

However, the lack of public infrastructure such as parking lots at LRT stations, forces many Malaysians to drive to work rather than making full use of public transportation. This leads to more cars on the road and traffic jams.

According to the Malaysian Automotive Association (MAA), the forecast number of cars that will be sold this year has been raised to 680,000 units from 670,000 earlier.

In a report by StarBiz earlier this month, MAA president Datuk Aishah Ahmad said the growth is driven by continued positive demand from consumers and aggressive promotional campaigns by car companies.

StarBiz also reported that, because of favourable economic conditions, total vehicle sales grew 6.3% to 333,142 units in the first half of this year, compared with 313,488 units in the previous corresponding period.

All this form the backdrop that led one social entrepreneur see an opportunity to reduce the number of vehicles on the road by encouraging people to use trains instead.

“When we ask people why they don’t use trains to get to work, they say it is because they can’t find a parking spot at the LRT station or don’t have someone to drop them off there. So, they have to drive into the city,” said ShuttleGo founder Hakim Albasrawy.

Hakim and ShuttleGo co-founder Tasnim Hadi conducted informal surveys and spoke to some 200 people outside LRT stations in the Klang Valley and the response was unbelievable.

“Out of the 200 LRT users that we met, 90% were ready to sign up immediately when we shared the idea with them,” said Hakim.

“To anyone that travels into the city for work everyday, the train network is downright amazing, however, getting to the train is another story altogether. Driving through the traffic jams, finding a parking space — all this just makes getting to work unnecessarily burdensome. So, we decided to scratch our own itch and we set up, to make getting to work a happy affair,” he added.

There were 53 million tickets purchased for the LRT last year and this only reassured Hakim and Tasnim that there was going to be a market for their idea.

“We are passionate about getting cars off the road and making getting to work a little bit more pleasant for people, so our shuttle van picks them up from apartment buildings every day and drops them off at the nearest train station.

“We do the reverse in the evening and get them back home from the train station. Customers are charged a monthly fee of RM150 for the convenience of having a reliable service that can ease the daily grind for working people,” Hakim explained.

The shuttle travels from between 7am and 9am and from 5pm to 8pm. And by only serving apartments, customers don’t have to wait for hundreds of people being picked up along the way.

“Our van comes equipped with WiFi so you can start focusing on work while you are en route to work and to give you that much needed morning boost, there is freshly brewed coffee available on our shuttles,” said Hakim.

Currently, ShuttleGo is only servicing the Tropicana area in Petaling Jaya, picking up customers from the Casa Tropicana, Riana Green and Sunway Sutera apartment complexes. They are dropped at the Kelana Jaya LRT stations.

Targeting areas that are within a 12km-radius of an LRT station, ShuttleGo will be available in Mont Kiara, Bangsar and Kota Damansara by end of the year.

With 24 LRT stations along the existing Kelana Jaya line and 27 stations along the Ampang line, ShuttleGo has a large customer catchment area and Hakim believes it will only get larger once the MRT project is completed.

With some 100 customers at the moment, ShuttleGo is looking at building its fleet over the next six months.

“We are looking at several app-based business models including Uber, MyTeksi and ZipCar to grow ShuttleGo. Hopefully, by next year we will have six more vans,” said Hakim.

Despite only operating with one 10-seater van at the moment, ShuttleGo has already been identified as one of the best social entrepreneurship ideas of the year.

ShuttleGo was one of the six winners that received between RM20,000 and RM40,000 each as part of Entrepreneurs For Good event, organised by the Arthur Guinness Projects in partnership with the British Council.

A nationwide roadshow was held early this year to find the best Malaysian social entrepreneurs — those who made the bold choice to set up businesses not focused solely on profit, but on actively benefiting the lives and livelihoods of the communities around them.

Twenty semi-finalists were shortlisted from the nationwide search and were given business mentoring and training over the last six months. The top 12 social ventures out of that were then selected to go into the final stages of the programme.

At a public pitch held in April, the finalist then pitched their winning social business ideas in front of an expert panel of judges comprising of industry leaders and leading social enterprises, out of which the final six awardees were chosen.

“The Arthur Guinness Projects is not all about funding. We pair financial support with business mentoring to work with people to bring their projects and ideas to the next level.

“We’re proud to help them succeed in this work and to help society change for the better among communities across Malaysia,” said Guinness Anchor Bhd marketing director Bruce Dallas.

The programme will also provide training, mentoring and other assistance to help them reach their objectives.

“We are proud to support this movement by providing a platform for budding social entrepreneurs to realise their dreams. Twelve social entrepreneurs have benefited from training under UK experts to develop their business proposals. I believe the six final winners will be able to build their social business ventures to benefit their communities, and to inspire others to follow their path,” said British Council country director Gavin Anderson.