We have cars but no petrol…

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Many Malaysians may still have cars, but they are now being forced to buy petrol on "hire purchase" – because they can no longer afford a full tank. Meanwhile, the public transport system in many parts of the country is still hopeless.

by Angeline Loh 

We need the car. Our public transport system  is inefficient  and, in certain areas, is  not easily accessible. We have to go marketing for basic necessities, feed the family, ferry the children around to their various educational activities, go to work and do a million other things. Now 30 sen more for a litre of petrol brings the cost to RM1.92 sen per litre. A full tank for an average family saloon could cost anywhere between RM50 to RM100, depending on the age and engine capacity of your  old faithful. It only used to cost RM20 to RM50 for a full tank, which would last about a week or two.

How, we cannot have a full tank as  we can’t afford it. That means filling up more often, like getting petrol on hire-purchase.

Tour de Langkawi in rat-race style?

Open the newspapers and what do we see advertised in large colourful pictures – CARS!

Proton Savvy, Perodua MYVi, Kia, Hyundai, Honda… the list is endless. All these ads tell you how respectable and ‘free’ it will make you to own such sporty, elegant cars or MPVs  image is important; it doesn’t matter whether you can afford the car or all the expenses that come with it in fuel, insurance, road tax, servicing and repairs. This aggressive promotion of individual car ownership is continuous and frequently “over the top”. Once in a while, the business pages will announce that Proton is exporting one of our Malaysian-made models to the overseas market. It doesn’t look like our home-grown car industry has a very big market overseas. Our biggest market is right here, at home. The ‘national cars’ are the most affordable cars available and do not require an AP to bring home.

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We are forced into owning a car as our public transport system is wholly inadequate, inaccessible and unreliable in most places. It is non-existent in some places such as newly built mega housing estates where few house-owners have moved in for lack of such amenities. Widespread car ownership leads to traffic congestion, an increased number of road accidents and the phenomenon of road rage, due to the low standard of safe-driving, lack of basic consideration for others in our country, coupled with a “kiasu” attitude.

So while car ownership is being pushed at us to bump up the profits of our home-grown car industry, the petrol subsidy has been pulled out from under our feet.  That may be seen by many as a positive thing in saving the environment, easing traffic congestion and maybe the number of traffic accidents. We might also resort to other means of tightening our belts by car pooling when possible or reducing our journeys to when absolutely necessary. Coming up with a brainwave, the Perlis Menteri Besar  called on civil servants in Perlis to cycle to work.  But we don’t have showers at the workplace!  And what if we live in Subang and work in Putrajaya? At what time do we start cycling? Is this the Tour de Langkawi in rat-race style?

Little emperors

Our last resort – PUBLIC TRANSPORT! Now, this solution is a good one. But, another BIG BUT is that the existing system is overcrowded, badly maintained, inefficient and not easily accessible to those living in certain remote areas. Moreover, the rise in fuel prices will mean a rise in public transport fares. School bus operators have already warned parents of a hike in fares as have other private transport providers. In certain areas a short journey of about two kilometres in Penang now cost RM120 monthly per child. Predictably, commuters anticipate a rise in public bus fares although public bus operators are keeping mum at the moment. These regulars anticipate paying more for an unchanged or even steadily deteriorating service, as operators continue to act like little emperors in their little empires, cashing in on the fare rises.

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The previous fuel price hike of 10 sen sparked a rise of RM4 in express bus fares on the Penang–KL route. Long distance commuters on this route paid the low fare of RM23, which jumped to RM27. This time how much will commuters have to cough up?

We must not forget that long distance travel entails toll charges as well. Over the past couple of years, these have also seen a rise. The present rates after the previous toll increase stand at RM26.50 sen from Damansara KL to Ipoh Selatan. Add on RM1–2, if you travel north by car from Subang Jaya, Selangor. From Ipoh Selatan to Juru, Penang costs RM16.80sen and bridge toll to the Island will take another RM7. A rise in bridge toll is also anticipated.

The toll charges mentioned are based on a private car journey. A taxi driver once confided that public transport such as taxis may get concessions on toll charges along the highway. Doubtless, express bus companies are likely to be given such concessions as well or are capable of making deals with PLUS for discounts. Still, these express bus companies are certainly not charities and will instead seek to maximise their profits.

In this rather weird “Catch 22” situation, the commuter stands small. Fare and fuel rises seem like hot spring geysers, suddenly spurting up high into the air, totally befuddling commuters who frantically dig deeper into their pockets to keep their feet on the ground as income levels remain stagnant. We’re then left with a  large pool of private cars which many ordinary folk can’t afford to run and a hopeless public transport system. We’re in a right MESS, Mr. Prime Minister! What are you going to do about it?

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