Stuck in KL traffic jams – but I didn’t need a car in Stockholm

A traffic jam in KL - at 10.30pm - Photograph: Benedict Lopez/Aliran

Benedict Lopez explains why he didn’t need a car to get around in the Swedish capital.

Traffic jams in Kuala Lumpur will continue to be a perennial problem unless the public transport system in the city is improved.

The light rail transit, Star, monorail and commuter rail services have done a good job in reducing traffic congestion in the city, but more needs to be done.

The Rapid KL feeder bus services are poor. The other day, when I arrived at the Bangsar LRT station at 8pm, I immediately walked downstairs along with others to catch the feeder bus. But much to our dismay, we had to wait more than half an hour for the Rapid KL bus.

This long wait was appalling – especially when commuters were most eager to get back home after a tiring day at work.

Rapid KL can afford to adopt a lackadaisical attitude as they have a monopoly of this and all other routes in the city. If Rapid KL cannot buck up, it is time for the government to issue more licences to other bus companies to ply the routes which are now being dominated by the federally owned bus company. Healthy competition leads to enhanced efficiency and consequently better services by bus operators. In the long run, commuters are the ultimate beneficiaries.

In fact, the government should encourage and issue licences to three-wheel autos or tuk tuk, as they call them in Thailand, to ply the routes from LRT stations to residential areas. It will not only be cheaper but more efficient than the normal bus services.

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In the 1960s, when I lived in the Cochrane Road government quarters, the Tong Foong buses plied the routes near our home every few minutes. It was so easy and convenient to take a bus those days.

In a city like Stockholm, bus stops are located adjacent to the train stations and the city’s red and blue buses ply the routes every few minutes. These buses are long, with either two or three entrance and exit doors, and the routes crisscross the city. The middle portion of the bus is an empty space reserved for anyone who embarks with a baby on a pram, and it is free of charge.

The bus drivers exercise utmost care and caution, constantly looking back to see if all the passengers are on board before continuing the journey. When the bus stops at a station, the exit door opens, and it is always adjacent and parallel to the bus stand, in contrast with our buses where the exit door is about a foot above the road, making it precarious for senior citizens, people with disabilities and expectant mothers to alight.

A commuter can buy a monthly pass, the Access Card, which gives the commuter unlimited travel on trains, buses, commuters, ferries and trams. When I left Stockholm in July 2014, a monthly Access Card cost only SEK790 (RM350), which I thought was a bargain. It was precisely for this reason I did not own a car during my four-and-a-half-year stint in the city. It made no sense to me to own a car when public transport was so efficient.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke should look into this matter as it will go a long way towards alleviating traffic jams in the city. The minister should get the mandarins in his ministry to draw up plans to reduce the city’s recurring traffic bottlenecks. Emulating a city like Stockholm would be a good idea.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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