On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Public transport and housing go together

The buses are run by 10 companies, including a
quasi-public company, and the result is that Curitiba's
buses carry 50 times the number of passengers compared to 20 years ago but the
people only spend about 10% of their yearly income on transport.

Curitiba has
caught the attention of many city planners because it gives public transport
the highest priority, not just in the number of buses but also in its traffic
dispersal system.

Dr Khir has very good reasons to visit this city because
a major factor why Selangor has such a large number of unwanted low-cost houses
is the location of these housing schemes.

Despite a three-day low-cost housing expo last week,
there was little interest among house-seekers. Dr Khir has adopted a more
cautious approach following a barrage of criticism against him for suggesting
that low-cost houses be sold to the rich.

The proposal created headlines. It was not just
politically incorrect but could lead to the poor being squeezed out of owning
property. There is nothing to stop a factory owner or a college owner from
buying up available units for their workers or students.

Dr Khir has asked for a report on why there were not many
takers. The reasons are obvious – the houses were built outside prime
commercial areas and, naturally, places of work.

I know of an office assistant who has rented out his
low-cost house, obtained through the support of his colleagues, because it is
just too far from his work place. He has continued to stay in a squatter area.

Then there is a clerk who complained that he applied for
a low-cost house from the state government but was turned down. He submitted
appeals to his MP and also sought the help of his colleagues.

He insisted that he must given a flat in his former
squatter area, which is making way for a mixed residential area of medium and
low-cost houses.

Eventually, it was revealed that he was not telling the
truth. His brother, whom he is staying with, was given a low-cost flat as

He is still talking of injustices from the government to
his listeners. His friends also found out that he had turned down offers for
low-cost houses in Bangi (he works in Petaling Jaya).

There have been reports of house-buyers who manage to get
their choice of low-cost houses under the quotas allocated to politicians.
Naturally, politicians would reward their supporters as a form of patronage.

These successful applicants, in all fairness, are not
rich people but mainly low-income earners but they are said to have an
advantage over others because they are grassroots supporters.

While various proposals have been made to make low-cost
houses more appealing to the public, the authorities need to seriously improve
our public transport system.

In Tokyo, Singapore
and London, the public live outside
the cities, travelling to work by train, sometimes for over two hours. However,
the trains and buses are efficient, and the feeder system is good, unlike those
in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Penang.

Low-cost houses, whether we like it or not, cannot be
built in prime areas because the land would be too expensive. It is just not
feasible to build a flat for RM45,000 in Petaling Jaya.

Those who have spent RM800,000 to RM1.2mil on a high-end
property also do not want a low-cost housing scheme near their homes, even if
the cross-subsidy system is used.

But the question of distance would be resolved if a
decent public transport system is in place. Last week, Transport Minister Datuk
Chan Kong Choy said Malaysia
had the lowest number of public transport users in Asia.

In an interview with a Chinese newspaper, he said that
only 16% of the people used public transport in Kuala
Lumpur compared with 60% in Seoul,
56% in Singapore
and 30% in Bangkok.

Chan said that bad service was among the reasons cited for
commuters shying away from public transport.

He said the Government was looking into ways to improve
the public transport system in the Klang

Looking at the situation objectively, the public
transport system has improved in recent years.

However, there is a need to divert traffic from the city
centres to allow better movement of buses. More bus terminals, with good bus
connections, should be set up on the periphery to ensure frequent access to
residential areas.

Having the best network of commuter trains or light rail
trains without an efficient feeder system would serve no purpose.

We have the most impressive buildings in Putrajaya but if
a tourist were to ask me to suggest a cheap and efficient way to travel to the
administrative town, I would be dumbfounded. In fact, public transport is a
major complaint among residents there.