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Lower tolls? Malaysian millennials long for more enlightened transport policies


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They are hoping for a less stressful and tiring way of commuting and moving around the city, writes Eric Thoo.

Fatima’s Honda Ex5 buzzes into a busy street in Puchong. She had left her home with an unusual sense of anxiety: this is her first day riding a motorbike to Sunway City, where she works as a salesperson.

The Sunway Bus Rapid Transit had been her main means of transport for the past few months. But the RM18 return fare soon proved to be a heavy financial burden.

Just 22, Fatima is new to the workforce and she earns only slightly more than the minimum wage of RM1,000 per month. She hopes to save more money by not taking public transport – and the irony is not lost on her.

Fending off a recurring sense of resignation, Fatima redirects her attention to the road ahead of her. She prays under her breath for a safe journey when – Honk! – the sudden outburst from a car behind her catches her by surprise.

Picking the colour to paint Malaysia

A general election in Malaysia is just around the corner. More millennials are participating in this vote that will shape their country’s future. Perhaps it is finally time for new blood to inject a fresh ideological perspective into our current political stream, paving the way for meaningful change.

But to achieve this, a new generation will first have to be set free from the clutches of the same false political outlook that has haunted our nation for decades.

Stand for nothing, fall for everything

Some voters oversimplify the political climate: for them, it is not really about the channelling of RM2.6bn into a private account; it is also not about whether unsustainable development has led to devastating loss when extreme weather hits us. For them, the question is, and has always been, which political party is responsible for the crisis.

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It is always easy to portray one party as the ‘villain’ and the opposing party as the ‘hero’. Some wish this is true so much so that, by varying degrees, they start to believe that it is as simple as that.

This monochromatic political outlook forfeits the need for any meaningful check and balance. Since our chosen leaders are the heroes – and heroes are supposed to be flawless – they are not held to the high standards they should be.

These political leaders are naturally not blind to the unrealistic sentiment some of the Rakyat have of them. And they play their cards accordingly. This is when the game gets really dangerous.

The hero we wanted, but not the one we needed

One of the highlights in the manifesto proposed by the main opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan, is the abolition of toll – a pledge that has undoubtedly won over many road users who are already suffocating financially.

This announcement was exactly what most of the Rakyat wanted to hear. But was it really what we needed to hear?

The reality is that this narrow focus on private vehicles will encourage more traffic on the road. It is telling the Rakyat to pump more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere – completely ignoring the deadly threat posed by climate change – while aggravating the congestion on the roads across the nation. The ensuing escalated tension between drivers that we can expect will surely lead to more road rage cases and fatal road accidents.

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In her book This Changes Everything, environmental journalist Naomi Klein writes that what we really need is massive investment in “affordable public transit and clean light rail accessible to all. And urban design that clusters essential services like schools and health care along the transit routes and in pedestrian-friendly areas”.

Doing the right thing will inevitably mean taking on the giant oil corporation and car-makers. It is something that must be done in Malaysia and elsewhere – not only to ensure the long-term wellbeing of the Rakyat but to save ourselves from burning down our home. Our political leaders know this.

But they also know they will make a lot of enemies if they take on the petroleum and car industries – and they won’t earn many votes in the process. In their eyes, this is essentially a high-risk, low-return investment. At least that is what the statistics suggest: better public transport ranks next to last among Malaysians’ priorities, according to a survey conducted by market research firm Ipsos.

The Rakyat are simply not demanding such far-sighted policies.

So why aren’t we?

Ready to answer the battle cry

To her horror, Fatima finds herself within an inch of being hit by a speeding car that had been  dangerously tailgating her, its headlights flashing, forcing her to make way.

The stress is overwhelming. Fatima slowly steers to the side and wills herself to stay calm. She feels nauseous, thanks to the same heavily polluted air that has been irritating her eyes.

Bathed in sweat under the blazing sun, Fatima looks at the endless line of cars that stretch into the horizon. A sense of dread creeps on to her, but she takes a deep breath, reminding herself never to give in to the System. She simply refuses to live the rest of her life like this.

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Real change will come one day, Fatima believes, when far-sighted politicians will promote sustainable mobility and environmentally friendly transport modes. And when they call on the public to buy into that enlightened vision, she vows to be the first of many to respond.

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.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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Eric Thoo, an Aliran member, is an aspiring environmental writer, avid reader and pluviophile (lover of rain). Climate change and the doomsday scenario beyond 2050 may be unnerving, he says. “In the eyes of modern environmentalism, however, this also means we have been presented the opportunity of our time – and I have decided to be part of it through writing!” Eric participated in Aliran's Young Writers Workshop on Elections and Change in March 2018.
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2 Apr 2018 9.54pm


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