I am puzzled by a report that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said that his policies had helped make public transportation “cool” again.
While delivering his keynote address at the Land Public Transport Symposium organised by the Land Public Transport Commission on Oct 23, the prime minister stated; “The outcome and reception of the MRT have been tremendous. In fact, a friend said to me now it’s considered cool to wear a suit and to travel around the city in the MRT… this is something that I can be proud to say.”
Public transportation, using stage buses and metered taxis was never cool in the days when it was a hassle to use them. But with worsening traffic congestion, the popularity of LRT in the Klang Valley has increased.
The opening of the LRT station at Putra Heights on June 30 last year was a major milestone as commuters there could travel the Kelana Jaya or Sri Petaling/Ampang line. Many locals boarded the trains for sightseeing and to enjoy the ride.
On July 17 this year, the MRT Sungai Buloh-Kajang line was launched and many took advantage of the free ride on that day, and also the 50 percent discount given until Aug 31 for MRT, LRT and Monorail. The promotion worked as many people who had not taken trains within the Klang Valley did so for the first time, thanks to 300 feeder buses.
Using public transport is a matter of getting used to. Some conscious efforts may be required initially but this would soon become second nature.
For most commuters, it makes little sense driving to work, especially when train services are available. Driving would subject the car to wear and tear, but what is less obvious is stress, which causes damage to the driver and is made worse by distracted driving whenever the handphone is used.
Motorists behind the wheel of high-powered cars stuck in congested traffic look silly instead of cool. They risk committing traffic offences inadvertently, such as being held up by others when trying to pass through traffic lights or yellow box.
A collision could easily occur followed by finger pointing, and if no private settlement is reached, would require making a trip to the police station to make a report and returning to obtain documents for insurance claim.
For those overly car-dependent, the period while the vehicle is undergoing repairs in the workshop would make them feel as if they are without legs.
In developed countries, it is normal for office workers and senior executives in full suits to travel using public transport, but many motorists driving to work would feel embarrassed in Malaysia, thinking it is not “cool”.
Even fresh graduates starting work feel that having a car to use is their top priority, but these young adults do not realise that they are old school.
In many countries, especially in major cities, a car ranks low in determining the quality of life. Shockingly, 84 percent of households in Malaysia own cars, which is the third highest in the world, higher than Germany and South Korea (83 percent), Japan (81 percent) or UK (74 percent).
Clearly, a high ownership of cars does not equate to higher quality of life, In fact, the converse is true as the value of cars depreciates rapidly, whereas house prices appreciate over time.
For example, double-storey linked houses bought for around RM25,000 in the early Seventies can now fetch more than RM1 million in choice locations, whereas a few hundred thousand ringgit spent on new cars over the past decades would have gone with the wind.
During the current heatwave, the most comfortable place has to be inside an LRT or MRT train. The air-conditioning is superb, unlike the hot Monorail trains that passengers are eager to get off.
But on the whole, the rakyat welcomes the revival of trains as the backbone of passenger transport. The proposed 300kph High Speed Rail from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore and the 160kph East Coast Rail Link from Gombak to Kota Bharu are eagerly awaited by many Malaysians, particularly those living near the lines.
It is also a great way to spread the population, instead of turning Kuala Lumpur into a megacity that would bring along mega problems. Whether it is intra-city or intercity travel, trains are the way to good and we must remain on track.