Public transport shouldn't be about profit

SEPTEMBER 12 — Scrape below the Tourism Malaysia veneer, and Malaysians are at heart very much capitalist beings.

We tolerate millionaire peddlers of mercury-laden whitening creams and dodgy supplements; we argue against minimum wage and deify the rich.

Malaysians are easily bought if we use our politicians as a yardstick, as can be evidenced by the 1MDB audit reports and the auditor-general's yearly report.

We forgive our leaders their excessive purchases of fancy cars and limited edition handbags because at heart, it is the highest Malaysian aspiration — to have enough money to spend on frivolous things.

Paying more tax and providing as well as maintaining public infrastructure — well, that is what we balk at. We have the business-minded harping about how we need to make buses, trains etc. more self-sustaining.

The only way public transport can make a profit is to charge prices that would make using it affordable only for the upper-middle class and rich. Which is not an option, by the way, so libertarians, don't start rejoicing.

Public transport needs heavy subsidisation. There is no way around it; maintaining public transport infrastructure is expensive and we do not have the population mass that generates enough revenue to cover everything in the first place.

Sadly that is against the general Malaysian mindset, which is to cut every corner for the maximum profit. The best example of that is the standard Malaysian eatery; when costs go up, ingredients are reduced or swapped for inferior alternatives and yet the price also increases despite these changes.

Public transport is where you cannot afford to cut corners because people will literally die if you do.

One economist keeps pushing for more buses. I tried taking one of PJ's free buses. It involved standing, only partly sheltered, in the hot weather while sweating as much as I would taking a jog.

I gave up and called a Grab.

The idea of buses is nice — the reality of buses is they have to battle our traffic, bus stops providing inadequate shelter and for many transport hubs, you still need to reach them by car if your house isn't near one.

I've read the public transportation planning documents that have been made public. Some of them are nice in theory but to be honest, I feel as though they were written by people who are driven around or drive.

Too many things are not taken into account — last mile solutions, our punishing weather that alternates between face-melting hot or sudden, furious stormy weather. But that's global warming for you.

The point here, really, is that we need to stop listening to the car lobbyists (hello, prime minister) and accept that in this new age we must make public transport a solution for all with cars being used occasionally instead of all the time.

Trouble is we have made nice cars aspirations the way we do nice houses, nice handbags and nice holidays.

Until Malaysians learn to give up their unrewarding love affair with cars, we will be stuck with traffic jams, unsafe and untimely buses and dependant on rideshares. And while we lose, the carmakers will probably be the only ones rejoicing in a country where cars seem to matter more than the people who can barely afford them.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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