The Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) systems in the Klang Valley offer many opportunities.
Together with the Monorail and KTM Commuter lines, they have helped improve connectivity.
In 1995, the most prominent connection was the commuter rail linking Port Klang to Subang Jaya and onwards to the main train station in Kuala Lumpur. Only in 2001, did the connection lead to the new KL Sentral transport hub.
This benefited Subang Parade immensely as the commuter line brought convenience to those from Port Klang, Padang Jawa, Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur to connect with Subang Jaya and the Subang Parade Shopping Centre.
This is possibly the first rail transport connection to benefit a shopping mall.
The LRT began with the Ampang Line, which improved connectivity for the Commonwealth Games held at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in 1998.
The next year, the Kelana Line began operations and connected commuters with the Kuala Lumpur City Centre and Suria KLCC Shopping Centre.
Both lines brought a new dimension to the development of townships and commercial areas.
Shop houses, retail shopping malls and hypermarkets became easier to market with their proximity to LRT and KTM Commuter lines.
In 2003, the KL Monorail began operations, connecting the central business district via a loop. It provided a convenient mobility option for offices and the Bukit Bintang shopping district.
This was further improved when the Nu Sentral Shopping Centre opened in 2014 and made the covered option available to both the Monorail station and the KL Sentral Transport hub.
Nu Sentral’s location became the focal interchange between the two.
The KL Monorail will soon be easily accessed from the Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT line which will be completed by the end of the year.
It also connects to the vicinities of 1Utama Shopping Centre, The Curve and Sunway Giza. On another route, it will connect the Tun Razak Exchange where a new shopping mall by Lend Lease will be built, MyTownKL, Sunway Velocity, Cheras Sentral Shopping Centre, Cheras Leisure Mall, and Eko Cheras Mall.
By the year-end, we expect a different landscape as connectivity becomes interesting with the completion of the MRT complementing the various seamless connections between the LRT, Monorail and KTM Commuter lines.
The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has made its presence connecting Da: Men, Summit USJ Shopping Centre, Giant and Mydin Hypermarkets with Sunway Pyramid.
Additionally, it benefits those living in the surrounding apartments, the USJ2 housing area and working in Bandar Sunway, and conveniently connects to the Sunway Medical Centre. This BRT station also connects with the USJ7 Kelana LRT station.
The LRT 3 line will be the next big thing as it is expected to operate in 2020. It will connect the Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT line and transport commuters to iCity and Bukit Tinggi.
Notable shopping malls along this route are 1 Utama Shopping Centre, Central iCity (which is targeted to open in Q4 next year) and Aeon Bukit Tinggi.
Shopping malls in the Klang Valley have been quite lucky as most of the stations are at their doorstep, while some are just a shuttle ride away, such as Paradigm Mall.
Starling Mall provides free shuttles to the MRT line at 1 Utama and the LRT line in Kelana Jaya. This has indeed improved connectivity and mobility.
Within the Southeast Asian region, especially in Singapore and Bangkok, the connectivity to public transport has improved foot traffic as well as convenience.
Successful and busy shopping malls in Singapore are now located beside or close to MRT lines. The same can be said for Bangkok, especially malls connected to the Bangkok BTS and MRT lines.
The positive impact seen in Malaysia is one of convenience. You can move about conveniently. However, this is not without its negatives. Cost is the main one. The other is flexibility.
Cost is derived from ticket prices. It can actually be pricier for families to take the lines compared to parking their car.
The total price to and fro for a family of four by train far outweighs the benefits of not getting stuck in traffic jams and the frustration of finding a car park.
However, you have to contend with limiting your shopping as you don’t want to carry too many bags in the train or while walking back home from the station. Imagine changing lines as well.
The impact of flexibility is another factor. On a train, you cannot make a quick stop or turn. You cannot opt to detour and must finish your route.
As such, the impact of the LRT, MRT, Monorail and KTM Commuter lines on shopping malls are negative and positive.
It works very well if the shopping mall’s goal is to obtain eyeballs and foot traffic. Most of them are likely youngsters aged between 16 and 20, and working executives between 25 and 35 years. Tourists will normally form a large proportion as well.
Taking trains also bodes well for singles who go for meet-ups and to eat out. Food and beverage outlets will normally benefit the most along with convenience or snack stores.
Supermarkets and fashion shopping will not normally benefit from train services unless they are a short distance away and purchases are not heavy. Otherwise it requires more people to carry.
Do not forget the cost factor either. It is one which must be fixed before many are encouraged to take the trains for shopping.
Lack of flexibility, the inconvenience of switching lines, transport or walking back to one’s home or destination can become issues.
More often than not, you will also find some shopping malls not taking advantage of the walkways to the stations.
These walkways are uncovered and not paved wide enough. Most times, they are just road shoulders.
The LRT, MRT, Monorail and KTM Commuter lines are now an opportunity. The elevated BRT line connects Sunway Pyramid, Monash University, Sunway University, Sunway Medical Centre, Da: Men and Summit USJ shopping centres within 5.4km and gives an idea of how communities can easily access transportation.
It is also an example of cost. It costs RM4 per person one way to Sunway Pyramid via the Sunway Lagoon Station – that means RM8 per person both ways.
However, we also cannot deny the fact that public transportation benefits the footfall of shopping malls, especially during weekdays when they (shopping malls) are part of a hub for offices, schools and institutes of learning.
It draws good footfall and potential rise in revenues, especially in the categories of convenience shopping, restaurants and cafes.
Standalone shopping malls will not benefit as much, other than for convenience. However, they do provide a good option for those who need to go to work.
On weekends, heavy shopping normally requires a vehicle, adding to costs. This is why car parks and motorcycle parking facilities are always full.
The tenancy mix of a shopping mall determines if a line connection leads to increased sales. Bear in mind that being a focal hub can be detrimental as not all shopping malls located near busy stations do well.
The habits of a commuter are not the same as an individual who visits a mall to shop. Shopping mall owners must understand that a public transport line will be beneficial only if the mix suits shoppers. Otherwise, it will not bring many benefits except increase footfall (to a particular area).
Today, mobility is not just the train lines or the dedicated elevated bus lines. Klang, Shah Alam, Puchong, Subang Jaya, Bandar Sunway and Petaling Jaya have free bus shuttles compliments of the Selangor government. And they connect the community with the train stations.
Add the advantages of Grab and Uber, shopping malls should look at more than just relying on footfall.
What is needed today to reap the benefits is a real investment in marketing and consumer behaviour research. The new lines of connectivity provide an opportunity.
Anthony Dylan is a member of Malaysia Shopping Malls Association