One Call Away: The Intercom and the Interview

What does this button on the LRT do? Let me share with you my story of when and why I used this button.

On the 30th of December 2018 (Sunday), at 4.30pm, I was taking an LRT (Light Rapid Transit) in Kuala Lumpur along the Kelana Jaya Line from Taman Bahagia to Pasar Seni.

Upon stepping into the LRT, I noticed a puddle of vomit next to the door. It covered two LRT seats and its surrounding floor, contained masticated (chewed) yet undigested gluten meal, no blood or coffee ground content, non-bilous, non-feculent, non foul smelling.

The appearance of masticated gluten meal suggests that the person who vomited had already developed molar teeth and be no younger than 12 months of age1. The other possibility would be an adult who was unwell or drunk who got on a train with many empty seats, yet chose to stand. Reasoning according to Occam’s Razor2 suggests that the person who vomited was most probably a child, who was being carried by an adult.

Upon seeing the puddle in the LRT but no mop or rag to clean it up, I looked for ways how I could call for help. There are 3 reasons why I wanted to call for help on this matter:

  1. Dirty clothes. I didn’t want any more people to end up like the guy who walked in ahead of me, unwary, and soiled his jean cuffs.
  2. A hazard causing risk of falls. The puddle is a fall hazard for people with walking aids, for the visually impaired, and so on.
  3. Risk of infection for everyone on the train. Vomit (or vomitus, as the medicals call it) produces airborne droplets containing norovirus which can survive on surfaces (or fomites) for substantial period of time. Anyone touching those surfaces and putting their hands to their mouths may be at risk of contracting stomach flu (gastroenteritis) 3,4. Even more so if you have low immunity.

Who on earth would touch surfaces in public and then put their hands in mouth? You may ask. Well, two categories of vulnerable people do – children, and people with intellectual disability.

Spying a little red button labeled Intercom (as shown in the pic at the start of this blog), I darted for and pressed it. Here’s how the events unfold at each station along the journey5:

Taman Bahagia: Encountered vomitus. Offered tissues to the man who accidentally stepped in it. He kindly declined.

Taman Paramount: Pressed the Intercom button. Followed instruction on the sign above the button to wait for a response from the speaker. No response.

Asia Jaya: Pressed the button again, and spoke into the speaker: “Selamat petang, saya nak laporkan ada tumpahan muntah kat koc “462, F2-2” (refer to the photo at the beginning of this blog). Bolehkah encik/puan/cik hantar orang tolong bersihkan? Terima kasih.” (Translation: Good evening, I’ll like to inform that there is a puddle of vomit in coach 462, F2-2. Could you kindly send someone to help in cleaning it? Thank you) No response.

Taman Jaya: Lifted my finger to press that button one more time, but later decided against it. Maybe they were already on their way. Annoyance started to furrow my eyebrows, and I thought, “Someone should have responded by now. What if this wasn’t a vomit spill? What if it were someone suffering from a heart attack or a knife assault on the LRT? Why isn’t anyone reply………?”

KL GATEWAY-Universiti: As the train approached Universiti, I glanced around in hopes of seeing someone come to help. A man in a yellow RapidKL uniform shirt was standing on the platform looking into the coach as the train came to a stop. I caught his gaze and pointed in the direction of the vomit. He nodded. Then the train doors closed and the train moved to the next station.

Kerinchi: A RapidKL staff and a cleaning staff boarded the train. The cleaning staff had a mop. Before I could approach them, RapidKL staff asked me pleasantly, “Were you the one who pressed for Intercom?” “Yes, it’s for the …” I said. “Don’t worry,” he said with a smiled. “We will handle the matter.” I thank the RapidKL staff and he leaves the train, leaving the cleaning staff there with mop.

Abdullah Hukum: Cleaning staff mops up the vomit. Anything the mop is unable to soak up, he pushes into a pile.

Here’s a photo of the cleaning in progress.

BANK RAKYAT – Bangsar: Cleaning staff gets off the train while using his mop to push the little pile of vomit off the train onto the platform. I called out a word of thanks to him but I think he didn’t hear me.

KL Sentral: The crowd pours in, passengers fill the whole train including the area where vomit had been just five minutes ago.

Pasar Seni: Got off train at my destination. My heart was filled with thankfulness that Malaysians can safely expect a response when they call for help using the Intercom button on the LRT. Apart from such, I was also thinking of the person who vomited on the LRT, and prayed for him/her. The poor person (most probably a child) could have been feeling unwell throughout the journey, but might have been forced to make it anyway. Besides, if the child was below the age of 3, the child may have been unable to tell that they were having nausea6.

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation” – Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogota”7

I strongly believe that improvement of our Malaysian public transport system is synonymous with our fulfilment of Wawasan 2020. Do you not wish for a Malaysia where public transport is efficient, reliable, clean and safe? A place where women can travel alone without constant fear of sexual harassment? For accessibility so trustworthy that even if you had the money to travel using your own car, you could save cost by travelling with strangers and know that you will not be robbed of your earnings? How about those who use special mobility aids like wheelchairs and crutches?

A safe public transportation is one in which a passenger can easily call for help in a time of distress, and trust that help will arrive immediately.  

According to the 2017 Sustainable Cities Mobility Index research by Arcadis, Rank Number 1 was awarded to Hong Kong (or HK). HK tops all cities of the world in overall index rankings and also in the People sub-index – one of the three pillars that measure sustainable mobility dedicated to quality of life (including convenience, wheelchair access, and the like). Kuala Lumpur ranked 82 in the People sub-index, whereas Melbourne ranked 498.    

During my recent three-month medical posting in Melbourne, I couldn’t help but compare the buses, trains and trams there with the ones back home in Kuala Lumpur (except we rarely have trams in KL).

So I interviewed two Malaysian friends residing in Melbourne, Australia. Here’s what they have to say in regards to public transport in Malaysia and Australia, especially on how to call for help when using such. (Both interviewees have consented to their names appearing on this blog):

Interviewee #1: Caleb, 25, Malaysian residing in Melbourne for past 5 years, currently a medical intern at Alfred Hospital, Melbourne.

If there would be a need to call for help in the public transport of Aussie, how would you do so? Who and how do you think you would receive the help called for?

Caleb: Well, some train stations have staffs for you to call. Otherwise, usually when you press the button for the timetable at the signstop, I think there is another button you can press to call someone. I haven’t used it before but I think it’s available if you need help. Usually if I’m lost, I just ask the bus/tram driver. Pretty friendly and they would give you a heads up if you are nearing your drop off stop. Had a bus driver gave me a personal lift to Monash Medical Centre (MMC) once (because he wasn’t taking passengers and MMC was en route to his next stop)

In terms of safety, could you kindly let me know how would your opinion differ in regards to the public transport in Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne and Sydney?

Caleb: Oh, I think with trains, it’s comparable but the different modes of transportation have different risks. For example, trams are notoriously bad because sometimes drivers ignore the stop signs when passengers are alighting or don’t do a hook turn (A hook turn is a driving technique endemic to the Australian Road System).

The trains are being upgraded. We also now have elevated crossings such as Skyrail to reduce traffic jams and reduce risk of car on train collisions. Just like the KTM ground MRT service. In a way, it’s better to have it elevated. In terms of buses, Malaysia is less safe coz of the roads. Haha.

Difference between Sydney and Melbourne is that Sydney has double decker trains while Melbourne does not, and they (Sydney) also use ticketing system in addition to the card (Opal). Whereas in Melbourne you only have Myki. (Note: Opal and Myki are the Australian equivalents of the Malaysian prepaid Touch N Go card)

As a Malaysian who has resided in Melbourne for 5 years, is there anything you like about the Malaysian public transport system in comparison to the Aussie one?

Caleb: I think the newer MRTs (in Malaysia) are kinda amazing. Air con is pretty cold especially in the newer MRT. Distance also is smaller in Malaysia. You look out and there are city scenes even out in the suburbs. So you don’t get bored. Whereas when you stare out of the window on the 737 Glen Waverley (in Melbourne), it’s just suburb.

Interviewee #2: Noelle, 23, Malaysian biochemistry student residing in Melbourne for past 6 years, familiar with using both the normal and special services of Australian public transport

Could you let me know how would your experience be in using public transport in Melbourne? Would you find it easy to get help if you need it?

Noelle: Hmm I can answer your questions as 3 different passengers: normal passenger, passenger on crutches, and passenger on wheelchair. Which one are you concerned with?

I would love to hear your point of view on all 3. In each of the 3 situations, if you should have a need to call for help, how would you do so? And who and how would you receive the help called for?

Noelle: Depends on what kind of help I need. If I need directions, normally there’s at least one PTV (Public Transport Victoria) staff member on major tram stops in the city, and definitely a few staff members at each major train station.

When I am on crutches, there are seats on the tram that are specifically for people in need which is good, but I realise that most people don’t vacate their seats at all, or pretend not to see me. I’ll have to ask them then.

Some tram drivers are kind enough to delay departure when they see me crossing the road (on crutches) towards the tram, but not all.

I find that when I’m on crutches, people are more helpful on trains than on trams. I think it is due to different people with different mindsets on the different transports.

When I’m on a wheelchair, I can go wait at the front-end where the first carriage of the train would arrive, and ask the train driver to put a connecting piece of metal to connect the platform and the train so that I can get into the train. Following protocol, he will also ask which station I’m getting off so he’s able to assist me as I get off the train.

For trams however, it is very troublesome. I can only have access to trams on platform stops and not all tram stops have platform. Besides, only new trams are wheelchair accessible. Problem is that most tram lines either use only new trams or only old trams. So if I need to take a tram line that uses only old trams, I won’t be able to board it. Tram drivers aren’t able to come out to help either.

Apart from this, not all train stations have lifts. Most train stations have slopes. When going down the slope in a wheelchair it is dangerous, and it is impossible to go up the slope with a wheelchair too.

Are all your experiences with public transport subjected to Melbourne, and not other states in Aussie? When you travel using public transport, do you go with your family, friends, or just alone?

Noelle: Yes Melbourne. Melbourne has the best public transport among all states.

Sydney has slightly better train services but their buses and ‘trams’ (called Light Rail there) are less good.

Travelled alone, with friends, with family. I’ve done all 3.

A Melbournian bus running on renewable energy harvested from ethanol

Inside a bus in Sydney

A double decker train in Sydney. You can get a ride using either an Opal card or by buying a ticket from the counter.

What do you think, Reader? If you are Malaysian, how do you think we could further improve our public transport system in Malaysia in wake of fulfilling Wawasan 2020? Feel free to comment below, and share if you enjoyed reading this.

Appreciation for Contribution: Caleb Tan, Noelle Ng

Credits for Feedback: My Papa, Mama, and “Silent Editor

Some other links:


  2. Wilkinson IB, Raine T, Wiles K, Goodhart A, Hall C, O’Neill H. Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine. 10th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press; 2017. 4 p.
  4. Kirby AE, Streby A, Moe CL. Vomiting as a Symptom and Transmission Risk in Norovirus Illness: Evidence from Human Challenge Studies. PLoS One. 2016;11(4):e0143759. Published 2016 Apr 26. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143759
  8. Arcadis Sustainable Cities Mobility Index 2017 Bold Moves file:///C:/Users/user/Downloads/Sustainable%20Cities%20Mobility%20Index.pdf
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