IN the past month, the Government has announced increases in toll rates and fares for public transport.
In the current economic environment where the value of our currency has taken a battering against the US dollar, the purchasing power of our hard-earned wages has shrunk drastically.
A recent information graphic virally shared on social media shows that the cost of car ownership in Malaysia comes up to RM20,808 a year, or RM1,374 per month. This amount will take a big chunk out of the monthly household income of most families.
With the recent hike in toll rates in the Klang Valley, many will have to fork out a lot more for toll when they drive around.
When the option of using public transport looked like a more economical choice to travel around, the Government then announced the increase in fares for KTM Komuter, LRT and Monorail from Dec 2.
What choices are we left with besides grumbling and blaming the Government?
There is another viable transport option that is free from all these expensive transport options – the bicycle. It is a very cheap and affordable mode of transport that is available to the general population. I have been living car-free in Kuala Lumpur for the past five years, relying solely on the good old self-powered, two-wheeled steel horse.
The bicycle is immune to the changing prices of fuel, toll and parking rates, and traffic congestion during rush hour. I get my daily 30 minutes of physical exercise without spending money and time for gymnasium membership. There are many benefits in switching to a bicycle to get around in the city.
Compared to cars, bicycles take up less space on the road, move more people given the same space, and cost nothing in fuel. Bicycles do not produce harmful gas emissions into the air we breathe or wear out the road surface as cars, trucks and buses do. Investing in bicycle infrastructure in the city would cost 10 times less than roads for motor vehicles.
Everything is not rosy on the safety issue, however. The public, being largely car-driving citizens, know too well the danger of riding a bicycle in traffic. The road safety statistics might reveal that riding a bicycle is actually safer than walking, driving or riding motorcycles, but the fear of being knocked down by motor vehicles is real.
The Government has done very little to promote the use of bicycles as a viable mode of transport.
In our typical car-centric government policy, RM900mil was allocated for the Jalan Tun Razak traffic dispersal project. What if one tenth (RM90mil) of that amount were given to City Hall to build a network of bicycle infrastructure that is safe for everyone to use? More people switching to bicycles would lead to fewer cars on the road, thus alleviating the chronic rush hour traffic jams. Financially, it doesn’t cost RM40bil to build, like our MRT.
When our citizens are ranked the most obese in Asia, riding a bicycle for transport will provide them at least 30 minutes of exercise daily. With cases of diabetes, hypertension, stroke and other ailments related to a sedentary lifestyle ballooning out of control, the Health Ministry should encourage more people to start riding bicycles and recommend that the Government invest financially in bicycle infrastructure.
We can learn from the Netherlands and Denmark, who are continuously investing in bicycle infrastructure because they know that the bicycle is a solution to many problems facing cities around the world.
More people are moving to the city to work and live, and promoting the use of cars is not the solution.
One hundred years of traffic engineering has shown us that if we “make more space for cars, more cars will come.” Betrand Delanoë, the former mayor of Paris, said, “the fact is that cars no longer have a place in the big cities of our time.”
If we seriously want to provide an option for our citizens to ride a bicycle, instead of relying on cars or public transport, the Government must take the lead in promoting the bicycle as a viable and safe mode of transport by allocating more funds to build good bicycle infrastructure.