Why are we prioritising cars over people?

Erna Mahyuni
Erna Mahyuni

AUGUST 14 — If there’s one thing I would attribute to our current and former prime minister, it’s my hatred of cars.

I understand that for some, cars are a necessity in their line of work or if they have a family. Ferrying around kids in taxis would not be fun, I can imagine.

Yet I am unable to understand why city planning and our economic future as a country is hinging on that national product we can’t sell overseas: cars.

I am rather tired of politicians encouraging our prime minister’s obsession with turning Malaysian into a car producer.

We can sell durians more easily than we can sell our cars.

Yes, I acknowledge our cars are not absolutely terrible but let’s be honest, Malaysians. If you had all the money in the world would you really buy a Malaysian car? Seeing how coveted foreign cars are as status symbols and how Honda Civics are basically car thefts waiting to happen, we all know the answer to that.

What infuriates me even more is how we accept the status quo. Calculating mentally how much the average Malaysian must spend on car loans, parking, servicing and tolls, I don’t know how they survive without incurring masses of household debt.

A Twitter friend started tweeting about the state of Malaysian pavements and honestly, they were made for mountain goats not people. A friend broke her leg tripping over uneven pavement stones and it doesn’t help motorcyclists consider pavements alternative bike lanes.

In Bangkok, they created elevated walkways and I really appreciated the massive pedestrian bridge constructed to walk from one end to the other of one particularly popular shopping district.

For those with weak knees, escalators were provided to help them ascend though you’d have to use stairs to go down. Which I don’t think is a problem at all.

Bangkok is at least walkable for the most part and taking public transport is much less of a hassle than being stuck in a traffic bottleneck. The least enjoyable part of my recent Bangkok sojourn were the traffic jams.

It was also noticeable how vibrant their transit stops are compared to Malaysia. At train stops there were eateries, retail shops and many other diversions that you could understand why people would choose to deliberately take the train instead of drive.

Even their airport rail is affordable and convenient, with my paying maybe a fifth of what I need to pay for KLIA Express.

In Bangkok, you won’t be made to feel like a second-class citizen for not choosing to drive. In Kuala Lumpur, developers would cut down all the trees and pavements if they could just to make more space for cars.

It’s not pleasant to drive in our cities anyhow. Too much congestion and too many terrible Malaysian drivers.

We could transform how commutes work, give people options to get around that don’t hinge on them owning their own vehicles.

Let’s stop putting cars before people and consider a future with fewer jams and more trains.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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