It’s not just stress and wasted petrol that accumulates in crawling traffic. In fact the report stated that, all told, this can slice away between 1.0 to 1.8 percent from Malaysia’s 2014 gross domestic product.
"Including the costs of fuel wasted and the economic cost of carbon dioxide and other emissions, the total cost of congestion in Greater Kuala Lumpur is estimated conservatively at 1.1 –2.2 per cent of GDP in 2014. These estimates do not account for the reduction in subjective well-being with commuting."
It went on to detail the most key driver for Malaysia’s – and indeed Kuala Lumpur’s – rapid growth, urbanisation. Only 51 percent of the population lived in cities as of 1985, whereas now that metric has leaped to 75 percent.
This shift helped to centralise the country’s economic and social development as well as to increase productivity and economic opportunity, resulting in the ballooning of the middle class and a decrease in poverty.
But there is a downside to all this new money, especially on the cities that were founded on a much smaller population. Urban mobility becomes a concern and, like a glass ceiling, is a looming threat to any the city’s growth.
"Today, road congestion is increasing in Malaysia's cities - there is insufficient public transit as an alternative to car use, and public satisfaction with public transport is low," the World Bank’s report continued.
So the next time you’re stuck in traffic, a sobering thought would be that that very gridlock is contributing to an RM20 billion annual money-drain.
The urban mobility conundrum has been tackled in a number of ways in cities across the world. Clever construction of road networks, tunnels, highways are the most obvious – and Kuala Lumpur has no shortage pavement, above or below.
The real gains come from a mass adoption of public transportation, which occurs when it becomes more than just a mere alternative but a primary means of getting around; when parking and driving into the city is just too much of a hassle by comparison.
With the new MRT network under construction, the severity of this problem might be on the cusp of recovery, as the new line reaches heavy populated areas that are in dire need for railed mass transit.
At the same time, Kuala Lumpur’s focus on the bicycle may slowly push its way into the public consensus. Granted, Malaysia’s weather doesn’t always guarantee a sweat-free ride. However, it does make sense for short distances, especially if bike lanes are constructed under the shadow of elevated highways and MRT or LRT routes.