IF the Malaysian and Indonesian governments want to improve quality of life in their respective capital cities, a major revamp of their public transport networks must be considered, a conference on sustainable transport was told on Tuesday.
There are too many vehicles on Jakarta’s and Kuala Lumpur’s roads, and far too few sidewalks, cycling lanes and good bus systems, speakers at the “Social City 2: Towards Inclusive and Sustainable Public Transport in Malaysia” conference in Kuala Lumpur pointed out.
This, they say, drives up living costs for those who need to commute daily to or within the capital.
“A city is only a good one if it is inclusive socially and economically,” said Liew Chin Tong, who chairs the Research for Social Advancement (REFSA) research institute, which organised the conference.
Liew referred to a study by global data measurement company Nielsen in 2014 which found that 93 percent of Malaysian households own cars, making it the third highest worldwide in terms of car ownership. The global average is 74 percent.
As much as one-third of Malaysians’ month incomes are spent on car loans, petrol and maintenance – funds they could be spending elsewhere in the domestic economy.
The gap between the “haves and have-nots” are further exaggerated when the city does not provide equal space for a bicycle costing US$30 bicycle, compared to a US$30,000 car. Bike lanes in Malaysia are far and few in between, even in its bigger cities.
Free Malaysia Today noted that data from the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research found 35.6 percent of cycling fatalities occur between cars and cyclists, while 21.6 percent take place between motorcycles and cyclists.
Neither are there feasible sidewalks or sufficient facilities for the elderly and disabled at its train stations. Persons with disabilities (PWDs) face significant problems when using the country’s public transport modes which have been described as “severely lacking in accessible facilities”, despite the passing of the Disability Act in 2008 – an act to provide for the development and well-being of PWDs in recognition of, among others, their equal entitlement to accessibility so they can fully participate in society.
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Jakarta suffers from the same problems, according to Yoga Adiwinarto, who is the country director for the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy based in Menteng, Jakarta.
Like Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia’s capital’s infamous traffic congestion is a result of a car-oriented city planning, instead of one that is people-oriented.
This makes Jakarta’s public transport system one that is “not inclusive at all”, Yoga told Asian Correspondent during the conference.
The poor, disabled and elderly are still at a disadvantage. Despite the popularity of previous governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, Yoga finds his decision to resettle many lower-income groups living in illegal squatter areas to the city’s outskirts “regrettable”.
“In the past, they can just go to work by walking 10 to 15 minutes. but now they have to travel using buses and trains. Some even lose their jobs as they cannot afford the fees for these modes of public transport,” Yoga said.
There have been small improvements in recent years such as the TransJakarta Care, a service by the city’s bus system where bus drivers notify minivans to pick up those wheelchair-bound and bring them to their destinations for free.
“They realise there’s nothing they can do about the sidewalks but there’s a lot of things they can do to make sure all their users are served,” Yoga said.
Jakarta’s sidewalks are notorious for being dangerous due to its close proximity to the traffic-clogged roads, if one can even find them in the first place. According to the Jakarta Pedestrian Coalition, only 20 percent of the city’s roads have anything that resembles a path for pedestrians, way from the traffic from motorists.