Traffic congestion in Kuching is getting worse and little is being done about it


By Yu Ji

Major headache: Traffic jams will be a common sight in Kuching during the festive season. File photo

NEWS events trickle to a halt every festive season, namely Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Gawai Dayak.

Increasingly, the month of December is also particularly sluggish, with the rising prominence of Christmas, coupled with school holidays.

In the last few days, there have been very few official functions of note. Even when there were press conferences, most were related to the new year: open house announcements, price control surveillance and stories on high tides expected this week.

None were earth shattering stories. Headlines came and went, easily forgotten.

But there was one headline that stood out - for me at least.

Padungan assemblyman held a press conference here on Monday to talk about something we are all experiencing. Traffic jams.

He called it traffic paralysis, citing the high number of cars in Sarawak’s towns and cities compared to the relatively low population.

In Kuching, a city of around 700,000 people, there are more than 370,000 private vehicles. This figure excluded motorcycles, lorries, rental cars, buses and taxis.

“Looking at the ratio between the population and the number of privately own cars, there is one car for every two people,” Wong said.

Similar statistics can be found at other towns. In Miri, there are 147,000 registered private vehicles (compared to a population of 350,000); in Sibu, about 120,000 cars (280,000 population).

These are not numbers of be proud of. Sure, someone could say, it represents prosperity, development and tax revenue for the Government. But, no, it is not.

It represents the lack of public transportation and a lot of added cost for people to get between places. Until very recently, it used to also represent a large fuel subsidy bill, taking money away from other crucial forms of development.

With a one car to two person ratio, is it any wonder why congestion is so bad? Why Malaysia’s accident rate is the second highest in South-East Asia? Why entire portions of the city centre are deserted on most nights because, once people get home, they don’t want to head back out again?

Come to think of it, do we even have enough traffic police to deal with the number of vehicles on the road?

Private developers cannot build enough car parks at new commercial centres to accommodate our over-reliance on cars. I doubt any of our urban planning guidelines were written with a ratio of two cars to one resident in mind.

Just look around: Most carparks are in a permanent state of disorganisation and unobserved parking rules. Park legally, pay the parking fee and you might be blocked by another car parked illegally and without paying the parking fee.

Why do we put up with this? It is just because we can better afford cars these days? Wouldn’t it be better to not spend on a car, rely on public transport, and use the savings in other more productive ways?

Nothing I am writing here is “news” in the core sense of the word “new”. What the Padungan assemblyman Wong King Wei told reporters was not new either.

The statistics he quoted were from September last year. In all likelihood, there are even more cars on the roads now. Certainly, the amount of road in terms of distance and added lanes are not keeping up with the rise in vehicle ownership.

To be sure, the Federal Government has said that it would be implementing a new stage bus system for a handful of cities across Malaysia by the end of this year.

Kuching is one of the selected cities. Under the new plan, private companies will be paid by the Government to operate certain routes with a fixed timetable. Not much details have been made announced.

In the absence of details - and because I still do not see the building of basic infrastructure like a stage bus terminal or better bus stops to begin with - I have a strong suspicion whatever the Government has planned for Kuching will not be comprehensive.

I do not expect the one car to two persons ratio to improve any time soon. Come the next festive season, expect more jams.

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