Traffic is getting pretty bad in the Klang Valley, perhaps even worse than it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. But why?
To any Klang Valley dweller, answering the question of why the traffic is becoming increasingly insufferable isn’t nearly as important as trying to figure out ways to circumvent or avoid it.
The reasons might be multifaceted since we have now entered the ‘endemic’ phase of the virus earlier this year, there is now more incentive for people to be out and about. There might also be more cars on the road thanks to the SST exemption/discount that has been running uninterrupted for almost 2 years.
In addition to this is the fact that more employers are actively encouraging their workforce to return to the office, either gradually or Tesla-style abruptly, and e-hailing prices have gone through the roof, it’s not hard to see why people tend to favour personal transportation.
But according to our Transport Minister via a post on social media, the finger can be pointed directly at the previous PH administration. Specifically, to their policies that he describes as ‘anti-public transport’.
Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong fired back against Johor DAP chief Liew Chin Tong’s “hypocritical” digs at the current government’s lacklustre response to the worsening traffic problem, blaming Pakatan Harapan’s postponement and/or abandonment of “several mega public transport infrastructure projects including HSR (high-speed rail), the Johor-Woodlands RTS (Rapid Transit System) Link and the Electrified Double Tracking rail project.”
Wee continued to lambast the decisions made to downsize the LRT3 projects, causing the delays that pushed its completion date to 2024 as well poke fun at the much maligned explorations into a national ‘flying car’ and a ‘third national vehicle’ plan.
The minister ends his response by underlining the importance of public transportation and its role in reducing vehicle congestion as the country eases back into ‘normal’ life post-pandemic while also offering up the recent government approval of three new highway projects in the Klang Valley as an additional solution.
However, as someone who has to suffer through the KV traffic more usually than I would like or have the patience for, can the problems we face as motorists and commuters so simply be boiled down to: 'their fault' and 'we need more highways'?
Voices from the other side will no doubt respond (to his response) with different justifications for what was done to the ongoing public transportation projects such as MRT2, LRT3, and HSR, but nobody can ignore the tremendous inconvenience these projects cause as they are being constructed.
With that in mind, while it could be argued that a high-speed rail link with Singapore would be beneficial over the long term, it doesn’t really impact the congestion we face every day in the Klang Valley.
Therefore, any delays to the already disruptive nature of light rail projects only exacerbates and perpetuates any existing traffic problems, which is compounded by the fact that many of these involve construction (of overhead or underground lines, stations) in high density areas. Still, is that all the fault of PH? We can only shudder to think of the severity in Mont Kiara when MRT construction really gets underway there.
Furthermore, the mention of additional highways can only infuriate the average motorist who already pays a disproportionate amount of our income on toll charges. The cost - besides petrol and the vehicle itself - of getting around within just a 10km radius that covers most of KL and PJ is unacceptable. We either pay up or drive a long, frustrating, meandering journey to avoid it.
The addition of yet more highways to squeeze more money out of our wallets might be bearable if they eased the traffic situation tomorrow, but the reality is that we all know it will take 3-5 years before anything positive comes out of any of these projects.
In the intervening period, we have to deal with incessant construction, road closures, more heavy vehicles, increased road deterioration, and just much worse traffic generally in the areas where the highway is being built. Just look to the overhead construction projects that are tarnishing areas such as Pusat Bandar Damansara, parts of Cheras, Glenmarie (never-ending LRT3 work), and even LDP intersection that crosses paths with the DASH highway, the new Spagetti Monster (Junction?) of Malaysia’s road network.
The fact of the matter is that, even if all these highway and rail projects were magically finished tomorrow, it stands only a small chance of alleviating the vehicle congestion problems we are facing in 2022 - and that’s assuming it doesn’t get worse with every subsequent year.
It is much less convenient (even unrealistic, if you ask certain people) to simply abandon our private vehicles in favour of public transportation, especially if you’re not living in particularly favourable location (point A) and are not headed to a particularly favourable (point B).
This is where the ‘last mile’ problem becomes a huge deterrent. Should the destination or point of origin have poor/no pedestrian walkway facilities, is located too far away to easily access on foot, or provides few/inconvenient/expensive options for last mile journeys, that’s enough for most people to use their own vehicle instead.
E-hailing services such as Grab suggest we use them for either that final 5-10% stretch or the whole journey from A to B directly, but with fares/fees rising here as well (which is also dependent on time of day), it might actually be less expensive in some cases to use a personal vehicle in addition to it being more comfortable and convenient.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of using our own cars over public transport is the straightforwardness of it all, which essentially involves starting the engine and well…driving. In comparison, the task of managing the different modes of transport (cabs, buses, trains) to most efficiently and easily reach our destination requires much more pre-planning, schedule coordination, and infrastructure familiarity than most people can stand.
In short, it’s a pain in the a**, so it comes as zero surprise to me that most people use their own car/bike given the option.
Of course I don’t have the solution to the traffic problem, that’s clear. But what’s worrying is that it looks like our own Transport Minister isn’t too sure about the answer either, more readily throwing remarks at a political rival than tackling the root cause of Malaysia’s unwillingness to use public transportation in large enough volume to leave the roads reasonably unclogged.
Besides this, there seems to be a willingness to throw money and government approval at projects - mostly highways - of unproven effectiveness at improving anything but the concessionnaire’s (and their stakeholders') bottom line.
There's just something about cars. It's a conveyance, it's a liability, it's a tool; but it can also be a source of joy, pride, inspiration and passion. It's much like clothes versus fashion. And like the latter, the pursuit of perfection never ends.