Mmaking public transport efficient and accessible should be one of the challenges of building a new Malaysia, says Mustafa K Anuar.
The government’s move to introduce passes allowing for unlimited use of public transport starting 1 January 2019 year in the Klang Valley is a step in the right direction as it would benefit Malaysians in more ways than one.
The light rail transit, mass rapid transit, monorail, bus rapid transport and Rapid bus systems are covered under this new scheme. It is heartening to know that this scheme will be extended to Penang, Kuantan, Kota Kinabalu and Johor Baru, where Rapid buses operate.
This move is long overdue because urban dwellers have long endured commuting problems as the main arteries in the Klang Valley are clogged daily, especially by single occupancy vehicles, during rush hour.
It is, therefore, important that this incentive should serve as a great boost to ridership so that many would leave their vehicles at home instead of congesting the road with them. Incidentally, this scheme should also be extended to tourists, who require easy and cheaper means of transport to reach to tourist spots.
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This is apart from the government’s objective to reduce the cost of living, particularly among the working class.
After all, many of the most liveable cities in the world boast excellent transport systems that are available to all.
But making the public transport system attractive to commuters obviously requires more than just providing unlimited passes. The system must be well integrated so that commuters do not have any reason to rely on their private vehicles to be mobile.
Good connectivity between one means of transport and another is essential because commuters want convenience when making connections, and not time-wasting and energy doing just that. For instance, there should be enough feeder buses to serve the rail stations.
An efficient public transport system not only can attract more ridership, but it also goes a long way towards reducing the carbon footprint in the city of Kuala Lumpur, which reportedly aims to cut carbon emissions intensity by 20% by 2022.
Besides, low carbon emissions will help reduce illnesses associated with vehicular pollution and, in turn, cut medical costs.
Furthermore, a good public transport system would put paid to the mistaken notion that enlarging highways, if not making more roads, will solve traffic congestion.
The experience of most cities reveals that building more roads is a recursive nightmare for road users and policymakers. More roads only encourage more people to drive and, hence, create more bottlenecks in due time.
As it is, there is so much land mass (and trees) carved out for road construction to the extent it gives rise to the question of sustainability. How much more greenery in the limited urban physical space do we have to sacrifice in the name of improving traffic flow?
Surely, the remaining green areas in the city should be left untouched by any attempt to turn them into roads, let alone high-rise buildings. Instead, some of them should be made into public parks that serve as vital green lungs in urban centres.
As part of the incentive to encourage more people to use public transport, measures should also be put in place to discourage more motor vehicles from entering urban centres. For example, parking should be made exorbitant enough to make people think twice about using private vehicles.
As things stand, there are already many buildings built and open areas cleared just to offer parking spaces for the many vehicles that drive into the city.
There are foreseeable challenges, though, to making the use of public transport attractive. Over time, many people may not appreciate the value of owning private vehicles if the public transport system proves to be efficient and affordable.
For one thing, the car industry, including local car manufacturers, may feel the pinch if public transport is made more convenient. This, in turn, may affect the profitability of highway toll concessionaires at least in the Klang Valley.
Indeed, making public transport efficient and accessible should be one of the challenges to be addressed in the long road to building a “new Malaysia”.