FOR a somewhat small country, Malaysia holds one amazing rank. It has the highest vehicle ownership after the US. As a country to some 28 million people, Malaysia has 11 million cars and 9 million motorcycles. With about four million households, the average number of cars per household is more than two!
This is indeed an interesting statistics, and it says a lot about the current traffic conditions in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, particularly during peak hours. In a nutshell, there are just too many private cars on the roads and to resolve the traffic congestion issues in the cities, these numbers have to go lower.
Road widening and introduction of new highways in the Klang Valley did achieve some success in easing the congestion but they turned out to be mere temporary solutions. New private car owners eventually make their debut into these wider and improved roads and the traffic flow soon after turned to a grinding halt.
Poor urban public transport system has always been the favourite excuse as to why people continue to climb into their cars every morning and drive into a traffic jam to work. Cheap prices of petrol and the availability of flexible financing schemes to purchase a ride are definitely not helping the situation. They kept the number of new private car owners on the rise every year and subsequently, contribute to the urban crawl.
The high number of private car owners moving in and out the city is clearly reflected in the ridership statistics of the urban public transport system. Malaysia's share of public transport in urban transportation is less than 20 per cent compared with Hong Kong's 87 per cent.
To resolve this problem before the traffic situation really worsens, something has to give. A push strategy via restricting cars on the road by methods including increasing petrol prices and having area licensing fees for cars entering congested zones might not be a viable idea unless a solid urban public transport system is available. As such, the government is opting for a pull strategy, where efforts are being made to expand and improve the existing urban public transport system while wooing the commuters to use the urban public transport for intra and inter-city commuting.
Beefing up the urban public transport system is also crucial to make Kuala Lumpur a great city and its environs liveable for work, play, leisure and learning. The move is also important for Malaysia to realise its aspirations to be a developed and high-income nation by the year 2020.
This is because every great city in the world such as London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Sydney, Tokyo and Hong Kong has as its hallmark a well-functioning public transport system that can transport commuters quickly and cheaply through the city.
Only an efficient and well-planned system can move large numbers of people through the morning and evening rush hours for a large city. At the heart of such a network is a transit system which is supplemented by other modes of transport such as walkways, buses, taxis and commuter trains.
A lot has been done to improve all the country's modes of public transportation, namely rail, bus and taxi services. For the inter-city travel, Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd (Prasarana) is expanding its light rail transit (LRT) and KL Monorail to cater for a bigger crowd of passengers. It has embarked on a Line Extension Project (LEP) for its Kelana Jaya Line and Ampang Line to further extend the alignments of both lines by a total distance of about 35km.
The Ampang Extension Line starts from Sri Petaling Station and passes through Kinrara, Puchong and ends at Putra Heights. The extension is 17.7km long with 11 new stations. Meanwhile, the Kelana Jaya Extension Line starts from the Kelana Jaya Station, passes through Subang Jaya and ends at Putra Heights. The extension is 17km long with 12 new stations.
A Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project is also in the making to service the areas of Bandar Sunway and Subang Jaya. All these improvements to the urban public transport system are expected to be completed in 2015.
It will be a while before Malaysia will have a hallmark urban public transport system like those available in major cities like London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Sydney, Tokyo and Hong Kong but the country is getting there.
Works to make it a reality are being implemented to make the system more passenger-friendly with higher quality level of services. With more commuters willing to leave their cars at home and ride the system for their daily travelling, not only will the traffic congestion issues be resolved, perhaps a hallmark urban public transport system for Malaysia is just around the corner.