Good public transport is the answer

It’s a well-known fact for Malaysians that being stuck in daily bumper-to-bumper traffic is a significant waste of time, but the true cost is staggering – estimated at a staggering RM20 billion.

27 Mar 2024 04:03pm
Illustration by Sinar Daily
Illustration by Sinar Daily

Transportation plays a pivotal role in driving Malaysia’s economic expansion.

The growth and affluence of nations are intrinsically tied to their urban centres, which draw vitality from the transportation sector. Malaysia’s economy is progressing at a rapid pace, resulting in a substantial portion of the populace having the means to own private vehicles. Consequently, there has been an exponential increase in the number of vehicles on the road.

Presently, Malaysia grapples with heavily congested roads characterised by a mix of vehicles traveling at varying speeds. This situation is exacerbated by a deficiency in public transportation services and inadequate parking facilities. Additionally, concerns persist regarding air pollution and other environmental hazards.

The Total Industry Volume (TIV) in the automotive sector was anticipated to see a two per cent increase in 2023, amounting to 690,000 units, compared to the estimated 680,000 units in 2022 in Malaysia.

Malaysia ranks as the fourth-worst country in Southeast Asia in terms of traffic congestion and holds the second-highest levels of CO2 emissions related to this issue.

According to the International Energy Agency, CO2 emissions originating from the transportation sector in Malaysia account for 28.8 per cent of the total fossil fuel combustion, which is notably higher than the global average of 24.5 per cent.

The economic toll of traffic congestion in Malaysia is also substantial, ranging from 1.1 per cent to 2.2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It’s a well-known fact for Malaysians that being stuck in daily bumper-to-bumper traffic is a significant waste of time, but the true cost is staggering – estimated at a staggering RM20 billion. In essence, traffic jams are a significant contributor to economic hardships among Malaysians.

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Every 24 seconds, a tragic fatality occurs on the road, underscoring the critical issue of road safety as a worldwide development challenge that affects all societies, with particular impact on those who are most vulnerable.

According to Nneka Henry’s calculations, approximately 500 children lose their lives in accidents daily. Moreover, among the elderly demographic, women face a staggering 17 times higher risk of fatalities in car crashes compared to men, even when they are wearing seatbelts.

Despite these alarming statistics, it’s important to recognise that road safety is not an issue that solely concerns women or the younger generation; it’s a concern that affects each and every one of us who travel on our roads, regardless of age or gender.

The recent significant rise in the volume of vehicles in the capital city has the potential to trigger the Urban Heat Island phenomenon, wherein temperatures within the city surpass those in the surrounding suburbs.

Malaysians collectively spend a minimum of 44 hours per month stuck in traffic, essentially translating to nearly two full days every month spent in traffic congestion. Shockingly, road accidents in Malaysia claim a life every 90 minutes, contributing to a total of 6,067 fatalities in 2022 alone.

This distressing figure arises from the recording of 545,630 accidents, equating to an average of one accident occurring every minute.

Traffic congestion also has detrimental effects on both the nation’s economy and the environment. It can result in significant economic setbacks due to time wastage, increased fuel consumption, and elevated transportation expenses. The delays in the flow of goods and services can also disrupt businesses and supply chains.

One of the underlying causes of traffic jams is reduced productivity, as commuters and workers spend a substantial amount of their time stuck in traffic, leading to decreased efficiency.

The time lost in traffic could be put to more productive use, either for work or leisure, and the stress associated with long commutes can have adverse effects on overall well-being. Traffic congestion contributes to air pollution, with idling vehicles emitting greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants, thereby negatively impacting air quality, public health, and the environment.

Urban residents, in particular, experience a lower overall quality of life, with increased frustration, stress, and reduced leisure time, which can have detrimental effects on their well-being and happiness. Traffic jams can diminish the attractiveness of a city or region to businesses and investors, potentially impairing economic competitiveness and impeding long-term growth and development.

Similar to other nations, Malaysia faces a complicated and ongoing problem with traffic congestion that calls for a combination of policies and expenditures in infrastructure, transportation management, and urban development.

Here are some essential strategies that can assist decrease Malaysian traffic congestion:

First off, one of the best methods to lessen traffic congestion is to develop and improve public transport networks. Malaysia can make investments in networks for buses, trains, and light rail to offer effective and reasonably priced alternatives to driving.

Second, create dedicated bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure to promote biking and walking. This can lessen the amount of quick car trips and ease traffic in cities.

Third, to limit the number of single-occupancy vehicles on the road, support carpooling and ride-sharing programs. Make incentives available, such as HOV (High-Occupancy Vehicle) lanes.

Fourth, educate the public about the effects of traffic congestion and encourage environmentally friendly transportation options. Encourage residents to use public transportation, carpool, or use other forms of transportation.

Fifth, strictly enforce traffic regulations to deter irresponsible driving, illegal parking, and other actions that increase traffic.

Sixth, congestion pricing levies a price on motorists who use specific routes or enter crowded areas during rush hour. By enticing individuals to carpool, take public transport, or travel off-peak hours, it can aid in reducing traffic.

Seventh, locate and fix any traffic bottlenecks, such as congested junctions and highway exit ramps. These areas might be widened, or the traffic flow could be improved.

As a result, it is critical to recognise that reducing traffic congestion is a long-term effort that necessitates collaboration across multiple government agencies, local governments, and the private sector. Furthermore, public support and willingness to use alternate modes of transportation are critical to the success of any traffic management policy.

Public transport is crucial for creating dependable, sustainable communities, improving quality of life, safeguarding the environment, and promoting social justice and economic success. It is an essential part of contemporary global urban planning and transportation systems.

Therefore, we may say that fewer vehicles equal less traffic.

Rulia Akhtar is a Research Fellow at the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies (UAC), Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.