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Why free public transport is the way to go for Malaysia

Providing free public transport will enable ordinary people to reap the daily benefits and increase their share of the country's economic pie


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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.

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.

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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.

READ MORE:  Public transport: An equitable green transition

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 money?

The key question is how to raise money to provide public transport?

This is not an issue, as several ways of generating funds exist.

Financing options:

  • 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.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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Simon Tan
30 Oct 2023 11.16pm

Follow DBKL Free Go KL buses concept. Simple everyone just board & onboard swiftly, avoid holding up traffic and ‘add to congestion’. No expensive and complicated card reader to pay and maintain. These Free FLM buses/ vans/ kumpool/ buggy / GoJek should be Responsibility of local councilsl who knows their rate payers better.

Good for Routes less than 5 km as FLM as feeder to hub and also most commutes are short eg to schools, markets, clinics etc.

Then state run paid inter hub buses at full fare to provide competition to private operators. If necessary employers and state government can provide TnG credits to needy commuters. I don’t see the need to subsidise commuters who choose to stay in lifestyle area say PD, Genting.

Capt Ismail Trapshah
Capt Ismail Trapshah
29 Oct 2023 6.47am

Yes fully agree with the idea. There are some states already providing this service but it can be enhanced further. What is truly lacking in the present service like mentioned is the last mile connectivity.
We need to consider the connectivity for the rural areas as well. We can see that virtue of lack of last mile connectivity, the poorer folks rely on riding 3/4 on a motorcycle.
Serious thoughts should be given. The clampdown on corruption has to be widened to increase the finance available for this purpose.

Paul Lim
Paul Lim
29 Oct 2023 1.42am

Some cities in Europe provide free public transport. The Capital of tiny Luxembourg is an example.

Collin Miranda
Collin Miranda
27 Oct 2023 9.44am

Fully agree. Increasingly in some countries, there is free bus service within the CBD.

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