Update 24th July 2016: The Kelana Jaya LRT extension officially opened on 30th June 2016 — so parts of the article below are no longer relevant. If you’re happy to continue reading, I think you’ll still learn something though…
I love trains.
I think they’re marvelous inventions. Train stations make perfect locations for breakups, wedding shoots, and cheesy 80s music videos.
But trains are also likely the most efficient way of carrying large numbers of people. Statistically they might be more dangerous than airplanes, but have you ever heard of someone who’s afraid to travel by train?
Anyway, I’m a long-time train user. Specifically the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system in Kuala Lumpur. Up until three weeks ago, I used to take it to work in the Kuala Lumpur city center. That’s nine years of daily LRT-riding experience.
This is what I’ve learned about optimizing your LRT ride. How do you get the cheapest and most comfortable ride?
For the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on the Kelana Jaya (formerly known as Putra LRT) Line. If anyone has tips on how to optimize the KTM Komuter or Ampang (formerly known as Star LRT) Line, I’d love to hear them!
Cost used to be easy. Touch n’ Go cost the same as a cash ticket. And if you used the LRT very often, a monthly pass might be worthwhile.
It used to cost me RM 2.40 per way from Kelana Jaya to KLCC. That’s RM 4.80 per day, and RM 105.60 per month (assuming 22 working days). Since the monthly pass was only RM 100 (unlimited rides on trains) — it made sense to get a monthly pass.
But of course… Rapid KL had to change their fares in December 2015. Now it’s a lot more complicated and expensive.
Fares effective December 2015
There used to be two pricing schemes (monthly pass vs everything else), but now there are four. Which are, in order of cheapest to most expensive:
- MyRapid Smart 30 Monthly
- MyRapid Smart 7 Weekly
- Cashless (either MyRapid or Touch n’ Go)
- Token (cash)
Rapid KL also now charges a “subscription fee” every time you activate the Smart 30 Monthly or Smart 7 Weekly package. So whether it saves you money or not depends on how many days you use the LRT. The fees are as below:
My advice is:
1. Never use tokens as they’re the most expensive.
2. Get a MyRapid card for RM 10. You’ll need this card to activate either the Smart 30 or Smart 7 packages. (You can use good old Touch n’ Go for cashless transactions, but you can’t activate the Smart 30 or Smart 7 packages using Touch n’ Go).
3. If you’re going to be traveling a route very often (say more than 20 days a month), activate Smart 30 Monthly.
For example, I used to travel from Kelana Jaya to Ampang Park. It cost me RM 3.30 using Smart 30. It would cost me RM 3.70 using the same card without Smart 30.
Total price using Smart 30
= (RM 3.30 x 2 ways x 20 days)
= RM 132
Total price using MyRapid without Smart 30
= RM 3.70 x 2 ways x 20 days
= RM 148
However, remember it costs RM 10 to activate Smart 30 every month. So total price using Smart 30 is actually RM 142 vs RM 148 (without Smart 30). You still save a few Ringgit.
4. If you’re not going to be traveling very often, consider using the MyRapid card by itself (without activating anything). You could save maybe RM 0.30 a week by activating MyRapid 7 Weekly, but I don’t think that’s worth the trouble.
2. 4-Coach Trains vs 2-Coach Trains
Now that we’ve got cost out of the way, let’s talk about the next most important thing: comfort. And in discussing comfort, I’m gonna assume two things:
- You prefer sitting instead of standing
- You don’t like grinding strangers
The Kelana Jaya line has two types of trains: 4-coach trains and 2-coach trains. Each coach is designed for 32 sitting passengers and 204 standing passengers.
pic via the excellent MyRapid
So statistically, your chance of sitting down is less than 16%. But since you’re a hustler, here’s how you’ll always get a seat.
The first thing is to always wait for the 4-coach trains. At peak hours, a new train arrives every 3 minutes. So even if you’re unlucky enough to get two 2-coach trains in a row, if you wait 10 minutes — you’ll get a 4-coach train.
Double the capacity, and double the number of seats. Plus if you wait — everyone else will get on first, and you’ll be first in line when the next train comes. Elbow anyone who isn’t queuing up for me.
BTW, the newer 4-coach trains are colder than the 2-coach trains. And the coldest seat is the third seat (middle) from the end. There, you’ll get the air-con directly blowing on you.
p.s. Official peak hours for the LRT are 7-9 am and 5-7 pm.
3. The Nature of LRT Stations
Not all stations are created equally for seat hunters.
If you take the LRT from the end stations: Kelana Jaya (until 30th June 2016) and Gombak — you’ll always have near-empty trains to look for seats.
If you stay somewhere near the end, you can take the train towards the end — wait till everyone gets off, then get a seat.
But it gets harder the closer you get to the city.
I wish I had statistics, but here’s my personal estimate on the seat-friendliness of LRT stations:
Pic modified from klsentral.org
4. The Psychology of Malaysian Train users
But what if you’re in a rush, stay far from the end, and can’t wait for the next train? What if you get on and the other hustlers fill up the seats quickly? Here’s what to do…
There are two laws that govern the psychology of Malaysian train users:
- The law of public transport inertia — A static person will likely remain static. A mobile person will likely continue moving.
- The law of personal gravitational space — Even in the most packed situation, people will try to keep some space between themselves and the next person.
Using this information helps us get comfortable:
1. The first law tells us that once people get “settled” in their positions in the LRT (whether standing or sitting), they’re less likely to move. So even if you don’t get a seat at first, wait till someone gets up and exits the train. When this happens:
a. The people who are already in the train usually don’t move from their current positions.
b. Who you’ll compete against are people who are just entering the LRT. Since they’re already moving, they’ll be looking for an empty seat. I’m not one to fight for seats, especially against women — so I wait for a certain kind of LRT station to arrive: one where a lot of people get off, and less people get on.
This is usually your best bet for a mid-journey seat.
2. OK fine — sometimes everything really goes wrong and you still can’t get a seat. But where should you stand to be most comfortable? Here’s my recommendation:
a. If you like going to Zouk, any area around the middle and doors is where your ass is gonna get grinded.
b. My pick is to stand in the middle of the aisle between seating areas. There, the “personal gravitational space” effect is highest. People always try to keep personal space between themselves and others. The further away you get from the grinding zone, the more space you get.
for a 2-coach train, (seats in blue)
An additional bonus is that since you’re so near the seats — if someone gets up, you’re in pole position.
5. Always Sit Beside a Lady
I’m not suggesting this because I’m a perv who likes to rub shoulders with random women on the LRT.
I’m saying this because on the older trains, the standard seats are only about 16.5 inches wide. On the newer trains, the standard seats are a bit wider — almost 17″ wide.
Yes, I got some weird looks as I was doing this
I consider myself slim, but even my shoulders are already 19″ wide. Put four guys in a row on the seats, and everyone feels like sardines in a can.
Considering that most women are probably slimmer than me, and 50% of men are probably bigger than me — it helps everyone be more comfortable if you always choose a seat next to a lady.
Ladies smell better too.
6. The End is Your Friend
If you don’t remember anything else from this article, remember this one: the end of the train is where the hustlers hang out. And it’s where you get the best of the LRT experience:
1. Newbies don’t realize that there are 4-coach trains. So they’ll always wander aimlessly towards the middle of the train station. I’ve nothing against newbies, but most haven’t fully understood LRT culture yet — so it’s annoying if they do things like not queue up.
2. The end of the train has an extra “storage area” where you can put your things. Actually, this is where the train manual controls are. But unless a Rapid KL guy gets on and uses this console, it usually makes a convenient shelf.
I don’t recommend you do this though
3. There’s a pretty nice view too. Like a poor man’s roller coaster ride.
4. The best seats in the house are at the end. Remember how standard seats are only between 16.5″ – 17″? The seats at the end have extra room, and even a small gap to park your champagne glass. Welcome to first class!
19″ — Wider than a Malaysia Airlines Economy Seat
There are several less-obvious “premium economy 17.5” seats too.
And since you’ve been so kind to read all the way to the end — here’s my final gift for you: the poor man’s SeatGuru for the LRT…
4-coach train a.k.a. Bombardier Innovia ART 200
Happy travels; and if a pregnant lady comes near you — please ignore everything I just said and give her your seat.
Pic at Pexels.