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KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — A public transport advocacy group has lauded the Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) unpopular decision to sharply increase parking rates here, but said more drastic measures were needed to address public apathy towards worsening congestion.
Ajit Johl, president of the National Public Transport Users, said the parking tariff increase could be the first step in the long and intricate fight to reduce traffic congestion within KL, but suggested that DBKL and Putrajaya make it much more expensive for car owners to enter the city.
“It is definitely a move in the right direction. (Private) cars are causing the congestion (and they) are giving a problem not only to the average person but also to public transport because taxis and buses use road. So any move to cut congestion is welcomed,” Ajit told Malay Mail Online through a phone interview.
“The government is spending billions on public transport infrastructures so we should encourage the people to use public transport in fact, the tariff should be further increased because a car is not a necessity, it is a luxury,” he added.
Calls to lower dependency on private vehicles to transit within the city is not new. The government has spent billions of ringgit trying to shift Malaysians’ feet from car accelerators onto the pavement in a bid to cut traffic.
Two Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines have been built, with one recently extended as far as Putra Heights near Puchong, about 20 km outside the city.
Billions were also spent on improving buses and taxi services, and millions more on awareness campaigns like the now-failed carpooling policy introduced under the Mahathir era.
And less than five years ago Putrajaya embarked on the country’s biggest public transportation infrastructure project in her history — the 214km Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system that is costing taxpayers close RM30 billion.
Public transport “low class”
Bar the MRT, which is due for completion in 2021, they have all failed to increase public transport usage and cut congestion. Although not rated formally, KL was listed as among the most densely congested cities in the world next to more populated places like Munich and Hong Kong, according to Cities and Automobile Dependency: A Notebook. And this was in 1999.
Ajit said the truth is the mindset of the average Malaysian is already too complacent. Despite marked improvement in the city’s public transportation system, Malaysian city-dwellers still view using the LRT or buses as “low class”.
“There are more than 2.4 million public transport users in KL. So it surely can’t be that bad,” he said when suggested that the most popular reason for not hopping onto the train or buses was their unreliability.
“Of course there is room for improvement but public transportation has progressed tremendously from the days of the BMW or Bus Mini Wilayah (old tiny 20-seater bus crammed by up to 50 people in one go)... but people still view public transportation as those for the lower and lower middle class,” he said.
But punctuality is a valid concern for those relying on public transport. Complaints are rife, especially over bus drivers who, according to users, are rarely on time.
However, Ajit argued that many of the complaints against buses should be directed at traffic congestion itself. Traffic jams mean delayed arrivals. Delayed arrivals mean frustrated and complaining passengers. This prompts people to buy more private vehicles, which then goes back to square one — worst congestion.
“Less congestion means easier transit for the buses and taxis. Which makes them more efficient,” he said.
50,000 new cars monthly
DBKL’s move to increase parking tariffs follows closely policies of cities like London and Singapore, which have made it prohibitively expensive not only to drive around town, but to own a car, as part of their campaign to reduce traffic congestion, and inculcate a culture that views reliance on public transports as one’s civic duty to his/her city and the environment.
In London, motorists are hit with “congestion charges” of up to GBP11.50 (RM60) daily while Singapore went one step further by making motorists buy a certificate of entitlement before they are allowed to purchase cars.
Ajit said the same should be done in Malaysia, noting that Malaysians have become spoilt as owning cars was as easy as buying instant noodles. But this must coincide with better accessibility to better facilities to encourage public transport usage like bigger parking areas for LRT users.
He also suggested that some mechanism be developed to make it cheaper for those who rely heavily on private vehicles for their jobs, and that tariffs and congestion charges should be targeted towards stationary city workers. DBKL noted that KL registers more than 50,000 new vehicles monthly.
Ajit also suggested that cars entering KL on Fridays be taxed instead of the current proposal to charge vehicles entering the cities on Sundays. Friday traffic in the city is likely the worst in a week, especially after salary day.
But Ajit cautioned that increasing parking tariffs and road taxes alone will not suffice to change the mindset of Malaysians, noting that it must be introduced alongside awareness campaigns.
“Have more high profile people use public transports. Look at the Mayor of London, even he uses public transport. This could encourage people to cut dependency on private vehicles”.