On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

No remedies for traffic-choked Kuala Lumpur

It's worse for Johan, a marketing manager, who lives in
Subang Jaya. He has to wake up at 5am, leave his house by 6am to reach his
Jalan Raja Laut office by 9am.

Subang Jaya, a middle-class residential housing estate with its well- manicured
lawns, has earned a notorious reputation for its traffic  congestion.

Both Tham and Johan have cars. But there are others who are not so lucky. On
Friday, Entrepreneur Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed decided to hear for himself
how bad the situation was.

Turning up unannounced at the Jalan Duta government complex at 7am, Mustapa met
about 30 civil servants who travel to work by buses.

One female clerk complained that she now had to fork out almost RM10 daily for
a trip from her Ampang home to Jalan Duta.

First, she rides the LRT which cost her RM2.90 to Jalan Raja Laut, then she
hops into a taxi for a RM5 ride to her office.

"I can no longer rely on buses as the frequency has reduced drastically,'' she

Another clerk grumbled to Mustapa that he had difficulties getting an Intrakota
bus at the squatter area he lives in because the company rarely serviced the

The general complaints were the infrequency of Intrakota's services or no
service at all at certain routes.

In a nutshell, KL's traffic woes boils down to this too many private cars and
not enough public transport.

Stopa, as the minister is popularly called in Kelantan, not only spoke to them
on the spot but invited them to his office in Jalan Raja Laut for more

The problems were real as the civil servants poured their hearts out,
expressing their worries over the increasing cost they have to pay in trying to
ensure that they reach their office in time.

The traffic problem in Kuala Lumpur has worsened since Jan 1 as a result of
several factors, including major construction works being carried out for the
LRT, monorail and Linear City, which affects traffic flow and the removal of
many old minibuses.

There were also grouses about the ticket purchasing procedures of the KTM
commuter trains. For example, most stations have only two ticketing machines.
There have also been complaints that KTM commuter trains don't run on

Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik said the public  transportation situation is a transitional
problem which can only be  resolved in
two or three years.

Bad infrastructure planning, he added, contributed to the current  situation.

We read in the newspapers that the authorities will get tough with errant
taxi-drivers who refuse to use the meter or are choosy over routes; but
enforcement is so lousy that taxi drivers know they won't be caught if they
flout the laws.

KL's traffic woes may not be as bad as those in Manila or Bangkok, where
motorists place urinals in their cars, but we will be heading towards that
situation if things don't improve fast.

On a recent trip to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee
asked me whether it was true that many KL folk go to an evening function
straight from office.

"I'm told you guys don't have time to go home to change because the traffic is
really bad. Is that so?'' he asked.

The answer, unfortunately, is true. There are also office workers who go for a
drink or stay in the office until 9pm or 10pm before heading home so they can
have a smoother drive.

There is a terrible need to reduce the flow of vehicles into the city,  especially during peak hours. The lack of
parking space has further  aggravated the

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, expressing displeasure with the
city's public transport system on Thursday, has given the relevant government
agencies and public transport operators until Feb 3 to come up with the

The angry public, who has to endure the traffic jams daily, can be  forgiven if they remain sceptical.

First, they had to put up with dangerous minibus drivers, then the pink
minibuses were phased out and replaced with air-conditioned Intrakota

They were comfortable and good for a while but when they became  monopolistic, they became more selective with
the routes, leaving many commuters in the lurch.

Many bus commuters are now being forced to take taxis to work and as Mustapa
found out, for many including low-ranking civil servants, it means burning holes
in their pockets.

Malaysia's inflation figures and the consumer price index remains  relatively low for a country with strong
consumer spending but more and more people have found that the cost of living
is spiralling.

The extra cost of transportation is something many Malaysians had not foreseen,
even for the middle-income wage earners.

Jane, a fresh Universiti Sains Malaysia graduate, has just become a journalist.
She gets a basic RM1,400 salary with over RM200 as travelling allowance.

She gets extra pay for over-time work and is saving to buy a car, where she
will be entitled to over RM400 in allowances but now, she finds it tough to
save after paying for her room rent and food expenses.

"I use to take the minibus for my assignments but now because of the
infrequency, I take the taxis to be on time but I am spending over RM20 for one
assignment now.

"This does not include the taxi rides to office from home daily. Can you
imagine spending over RM30 a day on transport?'' she asked.

Mustapa must be commended for taking the efforts to talk to the people directly
and to hear their grievances instead of relying on officials and their aides
for information.

We cannot deny the LRT, the monorail and the KTM commuter trains are part of
serious efforts to solve the city's transport and traffic woes but with our
development going at such rapid pace, better remedies are needed.

If we have to stop single occupancy vehicles from entering the city during peak
hours, we will have to do it now. We will have to make parking more

But all these will not be feasible unless we have a good transport  system. Unlike the London tube with extensive
links, our LRT is still at an infant stage, so the minibuses and the taxis will
continue to be the principal forms of transport for those who can't afford

For city folk, the past one week has been a tiring one. KL will attain  its status as a traffic-choked city  ith a bad public transport system but it
cannot claim to be a city that does not go to sleep, as many cities  pride themselves to be.

The city fathers have placed a curfew on us.Leave the discos at 1am, sleep
early. There's a perfectly sound reason you need to get up early to fight for a
seat on the bus, that is, if you get one.