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DRIVING THE RIGHT BEHAVIOUR: No need for greater enforcement
I GREW up in Taiping, Telok Intan and Ipoh and spent the first 15 years of my working life in Port Dickson. Accustomed to idyllic small town life, I had apprehensions about moving to Kuala Lumpur.
I found my fears unfounded when I quickly discovered that KL offered most of the attractions and convenience of city life but none of the issues that commonly plague most Asian cities -- congestion, squalor, slums, crime, etc. Unlike some concrete jungles, KL was refreshingly green and had charm -- a good mix of the old and new.
But that was some 20 years ago. Since then, we are beginning to face these problems which have escalated in recent years, mainly caused by rapid growth.
The city's population has grown from about one million in 1990 to 1.8 million today. If we consider the conurbation of Greater KL, also known as the Klang Valley, the population is estimated to grow from about six million today to 10 million in 2020.
Living in KL is no more as pleasant and stress-free. There is no shortage of complaints from aggrieved residents, including me, on what could have been and can be done to prevent and solve these problems.
Aware of these problems, the government has set a goal for KL to be among the global Top 20 economic and most liveable cities by 2020 in the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) annual ranking of 140 cities, not an easy task as we are currently ranked 77.
To achieve this goal, the government's Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) has drawn up a programme under the Greater KL National Key Economic Area to enhance public transport, clean and beautify rivers, build more pedestrian walkways, plant more trees and build new parks, etc, at a cost estimated at RM50 billion. These essential projects are well under way with some already completed.
The first 51km MyRapid Transit (MRT) line will be ready by 2016.
Concurrently, improving the city's operations has always been on the agenda of the Special Task Force to Facilitate Business, Pemudah.
Recently, this has been given more focus and impetus by the formation of a special task force on Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), chaired by the Chief Secretary to the Government. I am privileged to be part of this task force.
I now appreciate the enormous task of managing KL. The mayor has a tight annual budget of about RM2 billion and a workforce of just over 10,000 to manage an extensive operation, complex network of interfaces and portfolio of facilities.
Many of the problems faced by the city are affected by our behaviour, for example traffic congestion which the DBKL task force is tackling in earnest.
Vehicular ownership growth has been persistent and strong at eight to 12 per cent per annum. Today, about 20,000 vehicles are registered every month in KL alone.
On a daily basis, about 2.2 million vehicles cross the MRR2 route, nearly 70 per cent of which are single-occupant vehicles, one of the highest in the world. The current traffic demand entering KL is about 100,000 vehicles per hour.
For this demand, the cut-off point is a minimum of 48 lanes for a good level of service.
With 50 lanes, KL is operating at the brink in an unstable and precarious equilibrium, which means any significant disruption will cause severe congestion.
There is a limit to the number of lanes that can be built and the longer-term solution must be a world-class public transport system, already on the cards. Meanwhile, structural improvements are being made to junctions and highway-arterial interfaces by DBKL.
But the public's cooperation is also required -- use more public transport, practise more sharing of cars and, most importantly, be considerate in driving behaviour.
Inconsiderate driving behaviour has been identified as a major cause of traffic congestion, the main infringements being yellow box blockage, indiscriminate and double parking, lane hopping and queue jumping.
Increased patrolling of yellow boxes during peak hours has shown a very marked improvement in traffic flow.
Presence of tow trucks has been increased at critical locations and contracting out this activity is being looked at. But there is a limit to increased patrolling, which requires considerable manpower and cost.
We all want KL to be a great liveable city, the envy of others. To achieve this, we should continue to complain and put pressure on the authorities to deliver but we must also play our part.
We need to be more discriminate, considerate and compliant. We should not need increased enforcement or penalties to drive the right behaviour.
All the best infrastructure in the world will come to nought, if the city continues to be strewn with rubbish, plastered with handbills and infested with rats, drains are clogged and foul-smelling, eateries are filthy, toilets are squalid, buildings are unkempt and dilapidated, and roads and walkways are blocked.