IT is important to recognise the role that rail transport has played in alleviating traffic congestion in the Klang Valley.
Private vehicles have long held sway as the preferred mode of travel because of their door-to-door convenience.
Understandably, car owners are willing to pay a premium for this convenience. But the majority of these private cars are single-occupancy vehicles.
However, since the advent of rail transport, such as the Mass Rail Transit (MRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT), the commuting landscape has changed significantly and ridership has improved.
While the construction costs of rail systems are substantial, they bring a myriad of direct and indirect benefits to our economy.
In the heart of Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, a gradual but steady transition from road-dependent to rail-powered travel is unfolding. As a frequent MRT user, I have witnessed this shift.
On weekday mornings, the MRT from the Taman Tun Dr Ismail station to downtown KL is often full, with only standing room available.
Upon reaching the Pasar Seni station to switch to the Kelana Jaya LRT line, the number of passengers is overwhelming. Extra security personnel are deployed to ensure order.
As a transport economist, I find immense satisfaction in observing a growing number of Malaysians embracing MRT, LRT, monorail, and KTM services, despite private transportation's door-to-door convenience.
Reflecting on my time at the Economic Planning Unit in the 1990s, the struggle to persuade the public to adopt public transport was daunting.
However, with the proliferation of rail-based networks, it's heartening to witness an increasingly receptive public, as seen in other cities such as Singapore, London, Paris and Amsterdam, where rail transit is preferred.
The government's emphasis on rail public transport systems has reduced congestion on urban roads.
KL and PJ do experience traffic congestion during rush hour on weekdays, but which city in the world does not?
Road and rail infrastructure is costly. It is never built to cater to peak-hour traffic volume as it would be underutilised the rest of the day.
The not-so-noticeable reduction in urban road congestion has occurred despite the increase in the number of private vehicles.
Be mindful that the Klang Valley has an affluent population that can afford more than one vehicle per family. My guess is that the average family has three vehicles.
The advantages of rail systems are manifold, encompassing aspects that enhance daily life and contribute to environmental preservation.
Come rain or shine and amid road congestion, rail transport reliably transports commuters on time.
Contrastingly, roads can be prone to floods and congestion due to partial closures and accidents.
Furthermore, the web of MRT and LRT lines in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and parts of Selangor fosters unprecedented connectivity and accessibility.
The convenience, cleanliness, and safety of rail systems fortify their status as the optimal choice.
From an ecological standpoint, the merits are undeniable. Rail travel emits less greenhouse gases compared with private vehicles.
Reasonable fares make rail transport appealing to lower-paid workers, students and seniors, spurring the shift away from private vehicles.
The MRT and LRT also promote tourism by offering cost-effective and seamless transportation to visitors.
Private cars and ride-hailing services offer comfort and convenience, but come at a hefty cost.
DR POLA SINGH
Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Malaysia