Free public transport? Sounds preposterous, even inconceivable.
But looking at the issue objectively, the government could provide free public transport for everyone within certain areas of the country.
Public transport serves thousands of people daily: commuters to work, students, shoppers and others.
Free public transport will benefit those who cannot afford private motor vehicles. The poor can put the savings on transport costs to better use.
The provision of free public transport would have many tangible and unquantifiable benefits for the country.
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1. Less traffic congestion
Traffic jams, especially in places like Kuala Lumpur and Penang, are a norm due the excessive number of private vehicles on our roads. I need 20 minutes to drive from Brickfields to Bangsar between 12:30pm and 2pm on working days – a distance of only 2.5km.
To tackle the problem of traffic jams, the government needs to prioritise public transport. Public buses and light rail systems will reduce traffic on our roads.
2. Reduced environmental pollution
Greenhouse gas emissions are rising at an alarming rate. We need to do our part to reduce it. Using public transport will reduce such emissions.
Research has showed that having just eight people riding on a public bus reduces emissions by half compared to a single person in a private vehicle.
3. Less personal stress
Inundated with work at the office, we look forward to moments of relaxation. Using public transport provides us with a spell of relaxation and relief prior to reaching home.
Travelling by public transport reduces road rage incidents. It also eliminates the stress associated with driving on congested roads.
Private vehicles require regular and sometimes expensive maintenance. Other costs, such as parking fees, fines and penalties, add to people’s financial burden.
The money saved by using public transport can ease people’s financial stress.
4. Improved public health
Using public transport will require us to walk more often to the stops or stations where we board buses and trains.
This additional distance walked – the extra exercise – will improve our health. Walking has been proven to relax the mind and improve mental health.
5. Reduced use of fossil fuels
Travelling by trains and buses reduces the depletion of fossil fuel reserves.
Using public transport saves at least twice the fossil fuel energy used in personal cars. To put this in perspective, one full train saves fossil fuel that would have been used by over 600 cars on the road.
6. Shorter travel times
Often, trains and buses on dedicated lanes allow commuters to avoid jams and reach their destinations more quickly.
It allows them to reach their workplaces, meetings and appointments venues on time, without having to worry about traffic jams.
7. More options for travellers
Public transport sometimes provides us more than one route or mode of transport – or a combination of options – to reach our destination. Each alternative route may have its advantages and disadvantages, but the choice is up to us.
9. Boost for domestic economy
Free public transport will encourage domestic tourism. Family outings during the weekend will bring economic benefits. Their excursions have spin-off benefits for ordinary retailers and vendors. The domestic economy will benefit through the multiplier effects on the economy.
10. Safer travel
Private vehicle accidents result in higher fatality rates compared to bus or train-related accidents. Statistics show that many accidents involve private vehicles, especially cars and motorbikes. Travelling by public transport reduces people’s exposure to carnage on the roads.
The key question is how to raise money to provide public transport?
This is not an issue, as several ways of generating funds exist.
- Plug the loopholes on excessive government expenditure
- Eliminate subsidies for petrol except for motorbike use. The billions saved could be used to finance free public transport. Malaysia now has the cheapest petrol price compared with its neighbours
- Increase the road tax for cars. Exempt motorbikes from road tax. The additional revenue can be used to finance free public transport
- According to Emir Research, Malaysia lost RM4.5tn over 26 years through corruption and ‘leakages’. If we clamp down on corruption, funding free transport will be possible
- Require multinational companies and large companies to make yearly contributions for this purpose. Their workers will benefit from the provision of free public transport
Improve the connectivity of feeder bus services from residential areas to bus and train stations. Prioritise last-mile connectivity.
By providing free public transport to its people, Malaysia can be an exemplar of a truly caring society, a model for other countries to emulate.
Providing free public transport will enable ordinary people to reap the daily benefits and increase their share of the country’s economic pie.
We owe it to the people.