TS Law bets big on higher public transport take-up

The Kuala Lumpur property market may be deeply bearish but that has not dented the confidence of TS Law Holding Sdn Bhd. The boutique firm is ramping up preparations to launch its latest project, dubbed the Skyline KL, by the first half of next year for completion by 2025.

The sales pitch: easy access to the capital’s public transport services. The project, to be undertaken by LTS Skyline Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of TS Law, is just a stone’s throw away from the Pudu light rail transit (LRT) station.

LTS Skyline director Law Wai Cheong tells FocusM that the project is designed as a transit-oriented development (TOD), an urban planning concept where a mixed development, comprising retail and commercial blocks, is connected to or near a transportation hub, all within a 400m radius.

This allows residents and tenants to easily commute using rail and buses without the hassle of being stuck in a traffic jam. In a Malaysian context that means a heavy reliance on public buses as well as the LRT and mass rapid transit (MRT).

“It will be our first boutique TOD in Malaysia and will boost the ridership of an existing public transportation network, revitalise the surrounding areas while bringing ultimate ease of public transportation to the residents in the development.

“It helps to reduce dependence on cars and is more environmentally friendly. We have been working very hard to create a product for our buyers. We hope that it will be well received.

“For us, TODs are not just a trend. We believe it’s a sensible and logical way to plan large cities,” Law says.

If all goes according to plan, Skyline KL will consist of 1,000 residential units spread across four towers. Units range from 480 sq ft (one-bedroom) and 695 sq ft (two-bedroom) to larger units with three to four bedrooms and a dual-key concept.

The land parcel spanning 1.21ha was acquired from Railway Assets Corp (RAC) for RM182.6 mil. RAC, which is tasked to manage rail assets as per the Rail Act 1991 (Act 463), is believed to own about 3,237ha of railway land across the country.

Bringing in a renowned brand as manager

Law Wai Cheong

Prices at Skyline KL are expected to begin at RM1,400 psf which Law notes is “relatively affordable”. He has yet to finalise the gross development value of the project but assures that on the cards is roping in a “full-fledged, renowned service apartment brand” to manage selected towers at the development.

As for demography, Law is targeting young working professionals, small families as well as home owners looking for an upgrade.

To be sure, TS Law is not the first developer to employ the TOD framework. One iconic development is KL Sentral which consists of office towers, serviced residences, hotels, a shopping mall and a transportation hub. There is also the upmarket Kuala Lumpur City Centre with its posh mall and sky-high serviced residences.

Further, ever since the completion of the maiden Sungai Buloh-Kajang MRT line, it has been estimated that there are roughly 24 TODs across the rail network, including KL Sentral. Market observers have tipped the second MRT line which is expected to run from Sungai Buloh to Putrajaya as a catalyst for more TODs.

According to the MRT Corp website, the second MRT line is 44.6% completed as of end-February.

While TOD may be a fancy abbreviation, problems remain. For starters, there is no universal definition of a TOD. While properties far away from transit stations do not qualify as TODs, others such as the 1Utama Shopping Centre and 1Powerhouse have been classified as TODs despite lacking the residential component. This means that a property can be considered a TOD for the sheer fact of it being linked to a transit station.

Safety and security

Safety and security concerns need to be addressed, as well as the practicality of a TOD which heavily relies on federal, state and local government laws since public transport falls under public policy. There are some encouraging signs: the federal government has introduced subsidised travel through its My50 and My100 monthly passes which allow Malaysians to board both rail and bus, except for the trains which have a separate pass.

On a state government level, nearby Selangor is testing out free bus services with some destinations being plied by electric buses as part of the state’s green initiative.

Ng Yiek Seng, principal, Veritas Design Group, notes that TOD is premised upon the idea of walkability with transit as the main mode of movement. “So instead of providing a blanket high plot ratio for them, it must exhibit criteria that represent TOD, namely the development be within 400m in urban and roughly 100-400m in areas of lower density (suburban),” he tells FocusM.

Further, the project has to showcase diversity, preferably retail in an area of movement and should be permeable to other developments nearby with no obstruction of movement.

“Imagine if the developer has a 60m wide but 400m long plot of land right in front of the station and it decides that people will not be able to use its land to get to the lot behind it, making them walk around it, thus increasing the walk time to beyond 400m,” notes Ng.

Ng Yiek Seng

He believes it is better to have retail on the lower level as even people cutting across will increase retail footfall and potentially open up the TOD for other uses such as offices and hotels, which then raises potential ridership.

“But the cautionary tale is if every transit station within 800m is the same now, you then suffer a low diversity issue,” warns Ng, adding that for a TOD to take off, a reduction in car park space should be par for the course.

“If car-park requirements are increased, then that property should not be termed a TOD as traffic from the development coupled with traffic to the station may add to the traffic congestion.

“It will also block the creation of a transit-oriented environment within the city. Once these are satisfied, then an increase in density is of course relevant but to the context of the need and not of an inflated land value,” he adds. “Ultimately, the TOD needs to be designed with transit and type of transit in mind. Not just another development linked to a station.”

Ng stresses that the infrastructure is mainly there “except for a lot of missing links on some of the sidewalks as enforcement is lacking. Also pedestrians are not able to walk next to the buildings.”

But perhaps the most important problem that needs to be tackled is affordability. Bank Negara Malaysia raised the spectre that the average price of new properties is nearly 48% higher than the maximum affordable house price in the country. Further, 78% of unsold units are far from the reach of the average Malaysian.

“Housing unaffordability remains a major hurdle for people intending to own a house. The nationwide maximum affordable house price is RM282,000 based on the median household income. However, the average price of new properties launched is RM417,262, proxied by the average transaction value in the primary market,” BNM director of financial surveillance Qaiser Iskandar Anwarudin told reporters during a media briefing on Oct 25.

Local government expert Derek Fernandez notes that while TODs may confer economic benefits, such developments have to be inclusive.

He cites the constraints in Petaling Jaya. “There is no denying that KLCC and KL Sentral are successful examples of TOD. There has been economic benefit around these areas. But we need to have successful projects in Petaling Jaya to prove that an inclusive TOD concept will work here. To date, about 25% of affordable housing has been built in this area,” Fernandez, a councillor with Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya (MBPJ), tells FocusM.

Integrated approach

To deal with the shortage of cheaper homes, the Selangor government launched its Structure Plan 2030 that dictates, among others, that developers need to adhere to nine principles including providing affordable homes in a TOD zone. The plan sets out the plot ratio (density of commercial and residential units) at 1:8 in the zone. However, it falls short on defining how the ratio is decided.

But one workaround Fernandez and his colleagues at MBPJ are working towards is an integrated approach to TOD.

“At present, we have different landowners with different plans in one area. One landowner nearest to the LRT station may not want to develop the land while another owner farther away may want to develop his land but lacks space to provide amenities such as bus drop-off points and parking bays.

“Our policies should encourage these lot owners to combine their parcels of land so there is sufficient land to be used for infrastructure needs such as roads,” he says.

While there has yet to be serious discussion on the role of TODs at a local government level in Kuala Lumpur, that has not dampened the mood of developers to ride the bandwagon. LTS Skyline’s Law notes that he has already observed a shift of preference towards public transportation, especially with the MRT and LRT.

“Being Malaysian, I am sure most of us spend a considerable amount of time on the road to go to work every single day, especially towards the Kuala Lumpur city centre which is the heart of the country’s commercial activities.

“Imagine if we could save up to 50% of the travelling time every day, I am sure each of you could use this time more productively, whether it is spending quality time with the family, exercising, or be it having a short break,” he says. But only time will tell if TS Law is on the money. 

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