Mobility is life: Moving from transport to mobility in Malaysia

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A typical bus stop in Singapore - Note the covered walkway

Simon Tan looks at what enhanced mobility during normal times could do to improve our quality of life.

Even without the movement control order, millions of Malaysians lack mobility or have problems with mobility.

Many people who are visually impaired, those who use wheelchairs or those with disabilities are forced to stay at home as they are unable to reach their workplaces. 

Motorcyclists risk their lives under the sun and rain, while motorists have to endure congestion, tolls and pollution. Our public transport system is stressed during peak periods and underused the rest of the time, ie more people use private transport.  

1. Why are road-crash deaths so high in Malaysia?

Every year nearly 7,000 Malaysians die on the road. It costs the Ministry of Health RM10bn a year to treat road crashes victims who do not die.

Experts estimate another RM10bn a year of indirect costs such as medical leave, trauma and lost time to families, friends and employers and another RM10bn in losses of potential contribution had they been alive and productive.

Why are we not trying harder to save lives and money?

2. Why are bankruptcy rates so high among Malaysian youths?

A typical young family in the Klang Valley or Penang earns about RM5,000 per month, owns one car and one motorcycle and spends RM1,000-2,000 per month on instalments, tolls, fuel, maintenance and road tax, leaving hardly any savings. 

Unfortunately, car repossession or worse, bankruptcy is common among Malaysian youth.

3. Why do so few people use public transport especially in Klang Valley and Penang Island?

Instead of “moving people, not cars”, Malaysian politicians have been promoting unsustainable transport: more (national) cars, fast motorcycles, cheap fossil fuels, highways and flyovers in the name of “development”. Many perceive buses to be for the poor while cars are seen as fast and convenient, a status symbol.  

So we need to learn why Singapore loves buses.

4. How do we improve the health of Malaysians by increasing active mobility?

Again, learn from Singapore, where the local councils supports active mobility, ie walking and cycling, by providing:

  • safe, smooth and well-maintained walkways
  • where possible, sheltered walkways, and even better, shaded by trees
  • safe pedestrian crossings
  • bicycle parks at bus stops and train stations
  • designs that a friendly to people with disabilities

Check out the benchmark the Singapore Land Transport Authority has set in this video: 

Thirty minutes of safe daily active mobility will provide much needed exercise, especially if we could have an effective “last mile” from bus stops close to our homes and workplaces. 

Pity the Ministry of Health, which also has to spend billions treating diseases link to obesity, diabetes and air pollution from motor vehicles. 

At first glance the above questions are isolated, but they are actually interconnected.  

The solutions to each of the above questions are difficult to achieve in Malaysia as they involve so many ministries, councils, authorities and government departments. A typical case of “an orphan with too many uncles and aunties”. 

Here are some possible wholesome solutions. 

Singapore model

The ‘fatherly’ Singapore Land Transport Authority plans, fund, implements and controls policies on mobility encompassing diverse roles: electronic road pricing (a form of congestion charge), buses, trains, last-mile connections, active mobility, walkways, cycle paths, roads, highways, taxis and even the number of cars that ca be registered (through “certificates of entitlement”). 
Reference 

New Zealand model

The “sisterly” New Zealand Transport Agency, which reports to the ministry of transport and parliament, collects annual vehicle registration (road tax), petrol excise duties, etc. 

The agency funds public transport through local and regional (equivalent to our state) councils for the construction of roads, walkways and cycle lanes. 

Part of vehicle registration fees is paid as a levy to the Accident Compensation Corporation, which pays road accident victims’ medical bills and loss of income. 

Due to this self-funding mechanism and a user-pay principle, the New Zealand Transport Agency has to invest its funds to get a high return on investment: so road safety is placed highest on the list or else the Accident Compensation Corporation will ring alarm bells. 

Here, all stakeholders will feel the pain of road accidents, air pollution, time wasted on congested roads, the low use of public transport and higher petrol excise duties.

Pre-Merdeka George Town model in Penang

Back then, city councillors ran the buses, trams, ferries, power station, ferries, public hospitals, water works. They built and maintained roads and walkways.

Community service was decentralised by the community for the community. 

A new Malaysia model: fewer ministers, more synergy 

Every minister in New Zealand looks after two to five ministries. 

So to solve Malaysia’s problem of a high rate of road crashes, low use of public transport, poor health and overdependency on cars for mobility, we should have one senior minister looking after the following ministries: transport  (rename it to mobility), health and local councils.

Under this model, the Ministry of Health would lead the charge to lower its cost by reducing road crashes (which cost the ministry RM20bn annually), encouraging walking, promoting commuting cycling and reducing pollution.

The same minister would ‘whip’ the Ministry of Transport and Prasarana to efficiently move people, not cars, which will result in reduced congestion, cleaner air and lower mobility costs.

To solve the last-mile problems, the Ministry of Transport will push local councils to build and maintain more smooth, safe and shady walkways and cycle paths. 

If we have the political will, the people’s mobility would surely improve, and we are not even touched on climate change or our carbon footprint.

For more immediate synergy, set up a parliamentary select committee on mobility to coordinate the health and transport ministries, Prasarana and local councils. 

The much-needed movement control order has taught me that mobility is life and worth working for before it is too late. 

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