In a front-page interview with China Press on 30 May, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong made two important statements:
First, there are too many vehicles on the road. Having 33 million registered vehicles is comparable to Malaysia’s population of 33.8 million.
Second, the government will consider increasing the fare of public transport.
These are good reasons for me to doubt his policy-making thought processes.
As pointed out by DAP Secretary-General Sdr Anthony Loke in his press conference on 27 May, it is of utmost priority that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob form a multi-ministry committee to address the worsening traffic congestion problem and improve our public transport system as a step to improve the quality of life for ordinary Malaysians.
The challenges faced by Malaysia’s public transport system are as follow:
1. Inadequate coverage, low reliability and poor connectivity leading to underutilisation;
2. The so-called public transport is actually mainly just the rail system (MRT, LRT and Monorail) in the Klang Valley. Other cities like Johor Bahru do not have such systems to begin with;
3. Even in Klang Valley, the first- and last-mile connectivity is almost non-existent, hampering seamless travel;
4. Public transport to the government is akin to big toy infrastructure projects for their friends. There is no connected system and no one is thinking about how to run a bus system to complement these big toys;
5. Buses may not be as ‘sexy’ or remarkable as other mega projects but they are one of the most important modes of public transport, especially for first- and last- mile travel, anywhere in the world;
6. Cities that could have benefitted from water transportation, one of them being Johor Bahru, are not fitted with such planning;
7. The two largest consequences of a failed public transport system in Malaysia is us becoming the 8th most dangerous country in the world to drive in, and the government having to fork out a significantly larger amount for fuel subsidy whenever global fuel prices surge. Under Budget 2022, RM30 billion was originally allocated for total subsidies. It has now ballooned to nearly RM71 billion, with subsidies for fuel alone costing up to RM30 billion.
Why do I say that Wee Ka Siong’s policy-thinking is flawed?
To alleviate traffic congestion, funding and subsidies for public transport need to be increased tremendously. More bus service routes and more buses should be provided, not just to connect the rail systems in Klang Valley but also to be the major mode of transport in various cities and towns across the country.
But right now, the Finance Minister is hinting that fuel prices may have to go up while the Transport Minister intends to hike public transport fares. This will only leave Malaysian commuters, especially those at the bottom, with no choice but to switch from cars to the more affordable motorcycles. More motor vehicle accidents could take place and more lives lost on the roads.
To run a public transport system effectively and sustainably, the government needs to heavily fund and subsidise different modes of public transport, especially buses, thus allowing more Malaysians to forgo their cars and motorcycles and use public transport instead. Driving a car should be a luxury, not a necessity.