Friday, June 12, 2009

Traffic congestion on highways intolerable

Far sighted policy needed

I was appalled by the large volume of traffic on the PLUS North-South highway between Penang and Kuala Lumpur during the last weekend. It may be due to long weekend that fell during the school holidays. In fact during holidays, long weekends and festive season driving along the highway becomes a real nightmare due to the exceptionally heavy traffic.

The highway itself was congested with cars, buses, lorries, motor-cycles and people throughout the day and night. All the rest areas were so packed with vehicles that one could hardly pass through let alone parking, stretching, easing himself and having some food or drink. These areas may be designated as R&R but there is hardly any space for rest and recreation. I dread to imagine how the situation will be in a few years time at the rate the traffic volume is increasing.

The government may be putting in a lot of effort and spending huge amounts of money to build new highways, upgrade and maintain existing ones to cater for the increasing number of travelers.These efforts of the government may be praiseworthy but will these alone reduce the congestion on our roads and make road travel safer and more comfortable? How long can we continue to increase the highways if the volume of vehicles continues to escalate uncontrollably?

It appears that roads have become the main means of transportation in the country, both between and within the major towns and cities. Instead of developing a comprehensive and coordinated public transport system that involves roads, rail and air transportation, we have overemphasized on just the road transport which has become overcrowded and congested. The safety and comfort of travelers is greatly compromised with this chaotic traffic congestion of these highways and rest areas. Most of these rest areas are too small to cater for the increasing number of travelers especially during weekends and long holidays.

Train service that used to be a popular means of intercity transport is now become too infrequent and unreliable to be effective in attracting travelers. What has happened to the various express train services that we used to have in the eighties? Intercity shuttle flights that used to be popular in the eighties too have become less frequent despite having more airlines operating .Moreover airports are located far away and are poorly connected to the city centre which adds to the inconvenience to commuters.

With an increase in population the increase in vehicles is inevitable but what is important is to have a more effective plan to keep this increase to the minimum by improving other alternate means of transportation. We need to formulate and implement a better, more efficient and foresighted policy to cater for traffic increase for the next few decades. Greater emphasis should be placed on reducing the overdependence on roads by developing other alternate services.

Trains and railway tracts must be up-graded and modernized and all major towns and cities must be interconnected by such a rail network. All major cities should also be connected by frequent shuttle-flights. These services must be reasonably frequent, reliable, efficient and affordable if they are to be successful. The people with right attitude, capability and integrity should be picked, purely on merits, to manage these services with greater efficiency so as to make them profitable and economically viable.

Our leaders should go down to the ground to see for themselves the chaotic traffic situation on our roads particularly during holidays and festivities. By doing so only can they appreciate the risks, inconvenience and agony of the people who have no other better choice but to hit our congested highways. Driving during these periods is no more a pleasure as it used to be but a chore that poses tremendous risk to one’s life.

Travel and tourism have become important economic activities that are major sources of income for many nations. Unless we remain competitive with better and more comfortable, reliable and efficient internal transport system, we risk being edged by our neighbors.

Dr.Chris Anthony


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