Noticed the terrible daily traffic congestions outside? We’re sure you did. While most chalk it up to the post-covid rush as everyone is now back working in the office, there may be another reason for the madness – the sheer number of cars in Malaysia.
According to a report by the New Straits Times, the number of vehicles in the country has now overtaken the human population, with an increase of roughly one million vehicles per year since 2019, outpacing the human population growth for the first time.
According to road safety expert Professor Dr Kulanthayan K.C. Mani of Universiti Putra Malaysia, there were 33.3 million registered vehicles on the roads in Malaysia as of 2021, compared to the 32.6 million human population. Of that 33.3 million vehicles, 47.3% were cars; 46.6% motorcycles, and 4.7% were goods vehicles, with the rest made up by buses, taxis, and car rentals.
That is a stark increase to just three years ago in 2019, where the Malaysian human population stood at 32.5 million, with “just” 31.2 million registered cars on the road. Dr Kulanthayan said that the population is rising at a rate of roughly 300,000 to 400,000 annually, while cars are increasing to the tune of roughly one million per year.
“The vehicle population now is high. If this trend continues yearly where vehicles are rising to the tune of one million, then we are going to face even more horrendous traffic congestion,” he told the New Straits Times.
Dr Kulanthayan, who is also the chairman for the Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety, said that the rapid increase in the numbers of vehicles on the roads might be caused by the domino effects stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic had also caused some to lose income, and they had resorted to taking on several jobs, which means they are travelling multiple times a day and spending more time on the road,” said Dr Kulanthayan. “Some may have taken up p-hailing and e-hailing jobs, which were in demand and allowed during the Movement Control Order period.”
On top of that, there’s also the government’s sales tax exemptions as part of the National Economic Recovery Plan (Penjana) stimulus package, that may have contributed to the soaring number of vehicles on the road.
While the initiative did help the automotive industry recover from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, the scheme, which has been extended thrice to June 30 this year, has also resulted in many people buying cars which they may not have need, as they did not want to “miss out” on the irresistible offers on cheaper cars.
“There could have been graduates who had no intention of buying cars, but they did it because of peer pressure or persuasion from friends and family because they can save money with the tax exemption. This could have led to an increase in vehicle purchase as there is an external push for people to buy cars,” he added.
So how should we go about solving this issue? According to Dr Kulanthayan, the best solution is to increase investments and funding into the public transportation system, as opposed to building more highways or adding more lanes to existing roads.
As proven many times in numerous countries in the world, adding more roads will not solve traffic congestion, but actually counter-intuitively cause even more traffic congestion due to the supplies-attract-demand theory; more roads would entice more people to buy more cars.
Traffic congestion also usually happens at bottleneck areas, where vehicles reduce speed to merge and that subsequently slows down the flow. More lanes on the highways would consequently cause an even worse bottleneck when cars are exiting to local city roads.
“It is the government’s duty to provide public transportation and when they do that, it is best to channel more to rail-based public transportation, [but] we also need road-based public transportation for ‘first and last mile’ connectivity,” said Dr Kulanthayan.
“Rail-based public transportation has no congestion, no issues with punctuality, relieves people of the stress of driving, and encourages productivity during the commute.
“People [also] need to understand that road-based public transportation like buses is the safest mode of transport on the road. Our crash statistics, not just last year, but dating back to three decades, showed that the least contributor of fatalities is the bus. This should attract us to move towards public transportation and whether it is road or rail, both are much safer compared to other types of vehicles,” he added.
He also opined that in addition to the government, the people will also need to take initiative to reduce traffic congestions on the road. In particular, industries and companies with large a number of staff could do more by providing transport to their employees, or offer travel pass subsidies or incentives to utilise the public transport system.
Industries should also weigh the reintroduction of a work-from-home policy to reduce the number of cars on the roads. In his opinion, if the policy had worked at the height of the pandemic, there is no reason for it not to continue.
“If they are working from home, they could contribute more effectively. It is stress-free and they can concentrate better. Perhaps industries can consider enforcing the policy on a rotational basis as it should be not an entirely work-from-home concept.
“If every employer decides on this way of work, we may just be able to reduce up to 20% of traffic at any time. This is one way we can contribute to taking vehicles off the road which many are single car drivers. It also frees up parking space,” he said, adding that it’s best for everyone to also embrace online services, such as banking and shopping, to deter any sort of unnecessary travelling.