Kuala Lumpur (KL) has always be seen by the Malaysian government as the symbol for a modern high-tech Malaysia. Over the last 15 years, Kuala Lumpur has been turned from a capital city with a rather provincial flavor into a bustling metropolis of over 2.5 million people crossed by tollways, highways, LRT, and train lines. Kuala Lumpur likes to align itself with superlatives: in southeast Asia, KL has one of the most modern airports with the busiest low-cost terminals in the region, the Petronas Twin Towers are dubbed as the highest in the region, and many malls in KL claim to be the largest in the region.
There is, however, a superlative that KL is probably less proud of – one of the region’s ugliest international bus stations. Puduraya Bus Station is a sore in the eye of a city so keen on showing how sophisticated it has turned over the last decade. Located in the middle of the ancient city center, Puduraya Station is an ugly concrete grayish-green block invaded by the fumes of hundred of busses and frequented by 70,000 to 80,000 passengers on a weekday and over 100,000 during weekends. The terminal is so crowded and derelict that many busses have to stay outside the terminal as there is not enough parking spaces. The area is infamous for its thieves and touts operating within the station premises. Puduraya probably is probably one of the biggest places for the trafficking of stolen mobiles and counterfeit bus tickets in the whole of Malaysia.
In the nineties, ex-Prime Minister Mahathir had the ambition to build a brand-new bus station, just a couple of meters away from the current facility. However, the economic crisis of 1997 put an indefinite stop to its construction. From the grand plans of Dr. M. – as the ex-Prime Minister is named – remains a carcass of concrete with pillars rising to nowhere.
Thirteen years later, it seems this project is finally moving forward.
The Malaysia federal government set up a budget last year of RM 30.3 million (US$10 million) to completely refurbish the 30-year-old station. Large panels are now displayed over the facade giving a glimpse of what the future of Puduraya will be – spacious, well-lit, and air-conditioned halls with electronic ticketing machines similar to ATMs, along with escalators, travelators, specific facilities for disabled people, and new food and shopping precincts, as well as upgraded public toilets. Work should be completed by the end of the year. The integrated Puduraya Hotel will be upgraded and modernized, while a pedestrian covered walkway will link the bus station to the LRT Plaza Rakyat Station, which was built on the premises of the dream of Dr. M’s majestic bus station.
Although this is all good news for passengers, Puduraya will soon lose most of its intercity and interstate traffic. Routes to southern peninsular Malaysia –including Singapore – are due to move by the end of the year to a new “Integrated Transport Terminal-Southern Sector (ITT-S)” in Bandar Tasik Selatan. And a new northern sector bus station is also being planned for Gombak or Selayang, north of KL. The brand-new glamorous Puduraya Station will then serve only city bus routes. It would help then to divert hundreds of busses from the old town, which have turned the historical center of Kuala Lumpur into a sad bus parking area.