Is MRT the long-term panacea for traffic congestion?

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What is wasteful is building the MRT, while not improving the bus, taxi and commuter train systems in the city, laments David Yeoh.

The construction of a mass rapid transit system began somewhere in July 2011. There are those who oppose the massive project but there are also some who are in favour.

The question of course is whether such a public transport system is viable or necessary when it will cost a massive RM37bn in public funds, making it one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects. The RM37bn is for civil works only and does not include the cost of trains and land acquisition; so the amount may swell.

Such a large amount of public funds could have been used and channelled to the poor, who need the money most, to survive daily – especially when the cost of living is soaring, with GST added to the mix.

This RM37bn is not a small sum of money but it can be more than enough to feed the poor and help the needy. Remember, the objective of having an MRT is not because we want to show off to the world that we are one of the best. Rather, it is a question of whether there is a need for it.

The government must think very carefully and consider the long term impliations before investing in large infrastructure projects that involve public funds. What is wasteful is building the MRT, while ignoring and not improving the bus, taxi and commuter train systems in the city. The government should look into alternative ways of investing in or upgrading these systems instead.

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Such a move will save the Rakyat’s money rather than spending it all on building the MRT. Before any big project is allowed to kick off, a lot of feedback must be gathered from all parties including civil society groups and associations, ordinary people and the business community. Infrastructure experts should be consulted as well. This will help decision-makers to evaluate and decide whether the project should go ahead.

There is a public cost to such large infrastructure projects like the MRT. The government should therefore consider whether this huge investment is worthwhile and whether it will benefit the Rakyat. After all, isn’t that what the PM’s 1Malaysia slogan “People First, Performance Now” is all about?

David Yeoh Beng Tatt is an Aliran member based in Penang.

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