Klang Valley commuters and residents were understandably troubled by the government’s recent decision to offer one month of free rides on public transport, starting from 16 June.
In particular, civil society group Transit Malaysia argued that the RM155m spent by the government on the free rides would have been better used to improve the reliability of the public transport system, and to create and manage an urban transport trust fund and cross-subsidy programme.
Financial prudence is crucial, especially at a time when public coffers are drying up. Every sen counts and, therefore, offering such free rides is seen as reckless.
Indeed, after the supposed joy of riding freely for a month, the commuters would still have to come to terms with a public transport system that is plagued with issues.
Equally important to note is that the populist initiative to provide the so-called free rides is actually paid for by taxpayers. So, it is not that free after all.
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As rightly pointed out by Transit Malaysia, the authorities should instead attend to commuters’ complaints, such as poor lighting and dark areas on train platforms and walkways in and around stations.
Train services remain unreliable and less accessible when there is still a problem of first-mile/last-mile connectivity, as well as poor integration of different modes of public transport services.
You cannot expect to make public transport attractive and increase users substantially when, for instance, bus users have to wait for over two hours for an mass rapid transit feeder bus, apart from bus schedules that are said to be inaccurate.
There is also a problem of inadequate public transport coverage over a wide area, as well as limited parking space at railway stations.
Public transport fares should be made affordable to serve as an incentive for more passengers.
The reliability, accessibility and affordability of the public transport system are important in improving the mobility of residents in the Klang Valley, and other cities and towns nationwide.
Also, an immensely improved public transport system will help to alleviate congestion on the roads, which have become a daily nightmare for road users.
Bumper-to-bumper jams are not a good reflection of a progressive, modern society, especially when travelling is increasingly inconvenient and tiring, and speed becomes a luxury.
A reliable public transport system would make irrelevant a car-centric suggestion that the government comes up with a policy to take 10-year-old vehicles off the road to supposedly strike a balance between old and new cars, and presumably lessen the number of cars.
The recent government approval for the Petaling Jaya Traffic Dispersal Elevated Highway (PJD Link), the Bangi-Putrajaya Expressway (BPE) and the Kuala Lumpur Northern Dispersal Expressway (KL Node) projects not only indicates a car-centric policy, but also thumbs a nose at those who oppose highway construction and champion public transport as a sustainable means of moving about in the city and elsewhere.
It makes cynics wonder whether the government’s policy on improving public transport has been compromised.
Additionally, the interest of highway concessionaires is competing with that of public transport advocates, which may set back the efforts to further increase the ridership of public transport.
It would seem that the building of new highways ignores studies that have shown that more highways have over time led to more vehicles on the road, and do not solve congestion.
Our North-South Expressway, for example, gets clogged not only during festive seasons but also on certain other days as well.
Moreover, highway construction also ruins ecosystems, forces out wildlife and disturbs the balance of diversity, apart from contributing to air pollution.
There is still a bumpy ride for those who yearn for better public transport. – The Malaysian Insight