At every national Budget, the government tries to boost gross domestic product (GDP) by increasing government spending.
But it is time to think beyond GDP. Let’s focus on saving lives, raising health expectancy and promoting the efficient use of resources. Let’s promote sustainable development and reduce car usage by increasing active mobility.
It was heartening to know that the “Madani” (civil and compassionate) government in 2023 passed the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Bill to complement the net energy transition roadmap and speed up the transition to renewable energy.
Let’s take this concept of conservation, cost saving and efficiency a step further by promoting active mobility – walking, cycling, using public transport or a combination of these.
Active mobility to enhance health
Countries like Singapore, Japan, and the Netherlands have recognised the health benefits of active mobility.
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Ground-breaking research has found that the health benefits of active mobility saved the Netherlands €19bn annually. Check out this paper “Dutch cycling: Quantifying the health and related economic benefits” by Elliot Fishman, Paul Schepers and Carlijn Barbara Maria Kamphuis.
In summary: “Compared with the capital investments by all levels of Dutch government in road and parking infrastructure for cycling (and walking) of €0.5bn per year over the last decades, the annual benefits of €19bn [savings in national healthcare expenditure] are much higher than the annual costs.”
While waiting for similar research for Malaysia, let us work out a conservative ‘guesstimate’
The population of Malaysia (33.6 million in 2021) is almost twice that of Netherlands (17.5 million in 2021). Even if Malaysia can save 5% of what Netherlands can, that is RM10bn per year, this can then be spent on productive public health. That’s a significant amount, considering that Budget 2024 allocated only RM41bn for the Ministry of Health.
Reduce road crashes
Sadly, 7,000 people in Malaysia die on the road each year due to road crashes over the last 10 years (the lower deaths in 2020 was due to movement restrictions).
One former minister lamented that every life lost costs the country RM1m for that life lost, plus another RM1m to treat other victims who don’t die and another RM1m for loss of productivity and time wasted. This does not include the mental stress and emotional upheaval among the victims and their families.
If the minister’s estimate is correct, every year the country loses about RM21bn due to road crashes and accidents.
It is good to know that in Budget 2024 the government has allocated some funds to improve the safety of dangerous roads.
Looking beyond GDP, the government should set up an all-party parliamentary group to implement a national road safety roadmap at the grassroots level to reduce road crash deaths by 10% per year for the next five years.
This would mean saving 700 lives on the road every year, resulting in estimated saving of RM2.1bn a year.
Over the next five years let’s reduce road deaths and the number of crashes by 50%. This means saving 3,500 deaths per year after five years. (That’s still too many!)
So please push your MP to the reduce road accidents and save lives. This will also reduce hospital costs and raise life expectancy.
Everyone can play a part to bring about a mindset change to reduce congestion on the roads. This will lead to safer streets, save lives and reduce the horrendous number of deaths on the road.
Active mobility is an effective method of reducing road congestion and road crashes, as observed during the movement restrictions not long ago.
Imagine how much active mobility can save fuel subsidies (RM5bn per year), health costs (RM10bn per year) and road deaths and injuries (RM2.1bn).
These savings of taxpayers’ money can be invested in productive public benefits such as free school buses for primary school students and free bike shares. It can also provide free public transport for secondary school students and free council buses like the Go KL buses.
Targeted subsidies can also be given to deserving users of buses, trains, DRT (direct rapid transit) or even shared mobility.
Active mobility saves fuel subsidies, saves health costs and saves the environment.