Kuala Lumpur as enhanced liveability model city

By Amanda Yeo

Following the relaxation of lockdown measures and reopening of inter-state travels, traffic frequency and volume along major highways, expressways and strategic arteries nationwide during recent weeks have increased substantially.

According to Bukit Aman Traffic Investigation and Enforcement Department Deputy Director Datuk Mohd Nadzri Hussain, a total of 4.27 million vehicles travelled along the major highways as of October 15 – similar to the pre-Movement Control Order (MCO) period with 4.5 million vehicles a day.

Such a phenomenon is particularly apparent in the city centre of Kuala Lumpur – with more people resuming working in the office or dining in. And with people from other states driving to Kuala Lumpur for business or leisure trips, traffic congestion is getting worse.

The latest TomTom’s Traffic Index revealed that drivers in Kuala Lumpur lost 126 hours, or five days and six hours a year, as they require extra time to overcome the rush hour traffic.

The traffic volume in Kuala Lumpur is expected to increase further as Standard 1 to 3 primary school students and Form 3 to 4 secondary school students go back to schools for physical learning from Monday (November 1) onwards.

If there are road accidents or flash floods, driving Malaysians have had to spend more than 1.5 hours on average as a result of the traffic jam.

Despite the current administration introducing My30 travel pass to encourage higher public transportation usage, Malaysians still prefer private vehicles either in the form of car ownership or e-hailing services.

This is due to the longer journey time, low On-Time Performance (OTP) and lack of safe pedestrian crossings, among others, associated with usage of public transportation.

My30 travel pass costs only RM30 per month – for Malaysians to enjoy unlimited travels in the Klang Valley via the Light Rail Transit (LRT), Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), KL Monorail and bus rapid transit (BRT) services.

Malaysians, in general, also prefer not to take public transport during the pandemic as they may not able to apply physical distancing measures properly and effectively especially if crowd control or management is lacking. They would rather drive their own vehicle or use e-hailing services (i.e., Grab or AirAsia ride).

In addition, WapCar revealed in their survey (August 2020) that 57.9% of Malaysians are concerned about taking public transportation due to the fear of getting infected by Covid-19. They preferred self-driving as safety measure.

Out of the 318 respondents, 55.4% considered purchasing a car in the next six months as prices are expected to be relatively lower during the pandemic.

This includes second-hand cars – with Federation of Motor and Credit Companies Associations of Malaysia (FMCCAM) President Datuk Tony Khor Chong Boon stating that the country recorded a 20% increase in such sales.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, a total of 347,000 used cars were sold between January to May 2021.

Due to a lower cost of car ownership, the government could not convince more people to shift from private to public transportation. As of 2018, Malaysia only reached 21% public transport modal share – far from its desired target of 40% by 2020.

Meanwhile, the total number of registered vehicles increased by approximately 6% per annum – from 20.2 million in 2010 to 30 million in 2018.

As rising number of car usage has significantly increased carbon emissions, Kuala Lumpur recorded a temperature increase of 1.64 degrees Celsius over three decades (i.e., between 1989 and 2019).

A rising urban temperature has contributed to more frequent rainfalls, flash floods, landslides, freak storms and haze in Kuala Lumpur over the past few years.

The government should start developing more open spaces in Kuala Lumpur to combat the impact of climate change and enhance liveability.

Following are the initiatives that should be implemented for Kuala Lumpur city centre:
 Installing pedestrian walkways or cycling pathways – promoting not more than 15-minute walking or cycling distance for most shops, parks, leisure facilities and residential areas. With these facilities, people can enjoy nature, get fit, relax and release stress through cycling and jogging activities;
 Installing more streetlights, road signs and CCTV cameras to promote safety and comfort – discouraging criminal activities and accidents;
 Creating mini-forests to remove carbon dioxide and air pollution, reduce water pollution and serve as a noise buffer. They also provide habitat for other organisms such as birds and insects. Even though mini-forests are small, they can restore biodiversity to cities;
 Adopting Singapore’s approach by using hydroponics on roofs of car park structures and installing urban farms into existing unutilised buildings. Indoor vertical farming within the existing building allows local food production besides providing stressed-out individuals a safe space to enjoy a quality indoor environment and well-ventilated indoor spaces; and
 Providing affordable housing for the urban poor that is equipped with good facilities for better living and learning environment such as playgrounds, mini-parks and community halls equipped with Internet connectivity, learning tools and a library.

EMIR Research also urges the government to continue to:
1. Enhance federal-state coordination in terms of public transport and urban planning policies. Initiatives include increasing car-free zones, increasing frequency of public transport service. Prioritising walking, cycling, shared vehicles and public transportation would help to reduce carbon footprint in highly urbanised areas;

2. Conduct periodic reviews (i.e., once in three months) of all short-, medium- and long-term urban development plans and ensuring all strategies are implemented within the specified time frames. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government via the Department of Town and Country Planning (PLANMalaysia) should coordinate closely with the Commonwealth Association of Planners, local city councils and Think City, etc.;

3. Allocate funding to conduct research and development (R&D) in the area of climate-resilient infrastructure to promote liveability not only in the city centre of Kuala Lumpur but which also could be replicated in other cities such as Petaling Jaya, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu, Georgetown and Kuching;

4. Organise regular townhall sessions (i.e., at least once a month) to enable citizen voices to be heard at all levels of government. Local city councils could lead and foster an intergenerational transfer of experience, knowledge and skills; and

5. Develop more high-skilled and high-income job opportunities in the main cities of Malaysia to ensure more young Malaysians could secure jobs that match their academic qualifications, giving them the ability to earn higher income. A higher employment rate builds upon and leads to more investment, and production and, by extension, higher GDP growth.

The rakyat also must play their role in shifting their mindset by adopting and adapting to public transportation and slowly reduce the usage of privately owned vehicles.

When nature is fully integrated with the urban jungle, such a model eventually could be replicated in other cities – promoting better liveability throughout urban Malaysia.

(Amanda Yeo is Research Analyst at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.)

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