DRIVERS in Kuala Lumpur lost 170 hours, or seven days and two hours, stuck in rush hour traffic, reveals TomTom’s Traffic Index.
In that time, eight sweaters could have been knitted or 8,170 cookies baked. Or better still, 170 trees could have been planted.
Or ironically, finished reading 5,106 pages of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu).
At what cost to the Malaysian economy is hard to tell, but there is a proxy measurement. Yesterday, the New Straits Times carried a Reuters report quoting an INRIX Inc study that said drivers in the United States lost 99 hours or US$88 billion last year due to traffic jams.
Adjusting for longer hours and local wages, our Malaysian economy must have taken a few billion ringgit bang. Not to mention the hole we are making in the ozone layer.
Thankfully, Kuala Lumpur is not the most congested city in the world. That unwelcome distinction goes to India’s Bengaluru, formerly known as Bangalore (the name change hasn’t helped), with a congestion level of 71 per cent. Our capital city is ranked 46 with a congestion level of 37 per cent, up one per cent from 2018.
But congestion can vary with time and day. Evening jam chokes traffic with 84 per cent congestion, while morning rush hour records 63 per cent congestion.
As for the days, Friday has the highest drive time, with 62 per cent congestion, while Sunday is an easy drive at 11 per cent congestion.
But congestion isn’t just about time or day. It is more about cities, roads and cars. One writer compared driving in Manila (second most congested city in the world) in the Philippines with driving past the neck of an hour glass.
Kuala Lumpur isn’t there yet, but will be soon after being Thailand’s Bangkok first. We have tried tunnels and bridges but those haven’t worked.
We are now trying more tunnels and some more bridges. Like those before, these won’t work either. There are just too many cars on the road.
Three or four cars per family isn’t odd here. Even really old bangers that are decrepit with age make the crawl worse. Congestion charges into the city may help, but first, we must have a good public transport system.
To be blunt, save for the city trains, our public transport is a crying shame. Buses are unreliable. They rarely come on time. Drivers? Some are so riled up with rage it is a wonder how the bus companies allow them to be at the wheels. Taxis? Their shame index is a recurring global story.
The city of Kuala Lumpur, and even others, seem to have been designed to keep traffic congestion in, not out. Condominiums spring up like mushrooms everywhere, with just a road in between.
Not to mention sprawling shopping malls. Accommodating increased traffic would mean a flyover on another flyover. This has to stop at some point.
There are three ways out of this mess. One, transport companies must be made to give the best service with what is already there. This means cheap, clean and reliable modes of transport.
Two, commuters be given access to a multimodal transport app that makes it easier for them to get around without their cars. Three, build smart cities that make travelling almost unnecessary.