Friday, 11 January 2013

Is having a car still a symbol of freedom?

HAPPY 2113! Rest assured there is no typo error on the intended year of the greeting. I am wishing everyone a Happy 2113 at the beginning of 2013, to invite you to an adventurous ride to see the world 100 years ahead.

Imagine yourself embarking on a flying public vehicle that can carry you almost anywhere without the hassle of traffic jams. Late and missed appointments will be a thing of the past.

With an effective and efficient public transportation system in place, using your own vehicle other than for leisure or emergencies would seem unnecessary.

Imagine that the highways, car lanes and open car parks that once filled the landscapes are now replaced with parks, pedestrian friendly streets, public halls, malls, cafés and restaurants.

Travelling far to enjoy a good meal or watch a movie at the cinema becomes a distant past.

With ample time at hand, you can even catch up with colleagues, friends or family members at these easily accessible and beautiful sites or if you prefer, indulge in your favourite sports such as jogging, cycling, etc.

Now, that is creating true work-life balance.

This scenario sounds like a fantasy but it may become a reality in 2113, a hundred years from now. A hundred years ago, the sky was the limit.

Today, outer space is the limit. With the advancement of technology nowadays, there is no limit to our imagination.

However, we do not need to wait a hundred years to enjoy such a lifestyle. We can have a city with a hassle-free public transportation system if we start planning and building it now.

Efforts must be made before we can move towards a world-class city where the citizens can travel freely despite the growing population.

To achieve this, one of the areas that everyone can contribute is to reduce the usage of private vehicles which is currently the main mode of transportation in our country.

Every year, we have more than 600,000 new vehicles joining the traffic league.

Imagine what will happen to our traffic condition 100 years later if this number keeps increasing?

The strong demand for cars is understandable as cars have long been associated with the symbol of freedom and independence. This symbol is further hyped in many movies such as the James Bond series and associated with many famous celebrities including James Dean.

Today, we are still embracing a vehicle-centric culture. Given a choice to pick between a self-owned vehicle or a self-owned property, the vehicle always gets the thumbs up especially for the younger generation. The young ones plan for the wheels they ride in but give less attention to the homes they live in.


According to the 10th Malaysia Plan, our public transportation usage has only reached 12% in 2009. Our government aims to increase it to 30% by 2015. In other vibrant cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, their public transportation modal shares are about 90% and 60% respectively. In terms of car ownership,

Malaysia has a ratio of 200 cars for every 1,000 people, compared with Hong Kong’s 59 cars per 1,000 residents, and Singapore’s 117 cars per 1,000 residents.

With the number of vehicles rising significantly in our country, there is little room left for a car to continue being a symbol of freedom as portrayed in James Dean’s movies. Where is the freedom in owning a car if it is common to have long queues on our roads and our car is caught in traffic congestion?

Even in America, where the population is traditionally obsessed with cars, the Frontier Group and US Public Interest Research Group found that, Americans between 16 and 34 years old have in fact drove 23% fewer miles in 2009 compared with 2001. Meanwhile, they increased bicycle riding by 24% and their mileage on public transport by 40%.

To effect these similar changes in our country, a comprehensive and efficient public transportation network must be provided. One of the notable efforts made is the the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project.

The Sungai Buloh-Kajang line which is expected to be completed in 2017, is purportedly able to serve a population of 1.2 million people and attract 400,000 passengers per day.

The announcement on the alignments of Line 2 and Line 3 next year is a good move to transform our transportation landscape.

As we wait for the completion of the MRT networks, other alternatives such as providing more feeder buses and taxis, or extending the current number of our LRT coaches should be considered.

The 2113 scenario with all its sophistication and engaging living environment is a lifestyle worth pursuing. Best of all, we do not need to wait 100 years to enjoy this lifestyle if the public transportation projects can be expedited. It is done in many great cities, why not our own cities?

Today’s infrastructure is built for decades to come, it is meant to support the demand and growth of our future generation. A comprehensive public transportation system will be the answer to the challenges posed by a world class and people-oriented city. And the true symbol of freedom is captured when you are able to speed on an MRT which bypasses the cars stucked in the traffic below. ·

 Food for thought  By DATUK ALAN TONG

FIABCI Asia-Pacific regional secretariat chairman Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.

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