31 January 2009

Happy Federal Territories Day

1st February 2009 is Federal Territories Day, or better known as Hari Wilayah Persekutuan. It is a public holiday, but since it falls on a Sunday this year, tomorrow will be a public holiday. The Federal Territories in Malaysia consist of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan. Of the three, Putrajaya has been the newest area to be added. It was the brainchild of Tun Dr Mahathir, in an effort to move traffic congestion away from the nation's financial capital. The creation of an administrative centre was an effort to mimic Washington's relation to New York. The other territory, Labuan, is famous as an offshore financial centre.

The problem of congestion in Kuala Lumpur has abated somewhat. The city seems to be growing outwards. More and more businesses are moving their premises to new locations, where rentals are cheaper and they can access new client bases. New highways and the extension of the light railway train (LRT) also contribute the decisions of urban folks who have decided to move to the fringes of the city.

The sprawling area of Kuala Lumpur is a hodgepodge of new roads and old roads. Some roads remain narrow, with two lanes -- one for each direction. Bottlenecks become evident during peak periods of traffic. The solution is that public transportation must be improved to better serve the residents and commuters in the city. Yet an expectation that public transportation will increase runs counter to the aspirations of the government to boost sales of the national car.

One solution to the traffic problem is to encourage usage of public transportation. The government can encourage commuters to use public transportation and to subsidise LRT charges and taxi fares. LRT can be improved so that it becomes conducive to bring bicycles and scooters aboard. Pedestrian walkways may be improved by adding shade and/or canopies whenever possible. Bus stops and taxi stands must be better lit. To improve security for pedestrians, policemen may be equipped with motorized bicycles or mopeds to go about their rounds. Multi-storey car parks powered by solar panels may be constructed nearby public transportation hubs. Finally, areas of the city may be cordoned off to allow only buses, bicycles or motorcycles, effectively shunting off cars.

Aside from that, the government can itself ease traffic congestions by upgrading infrastructure. Highways to link disparate areas may be considered whether by way of underground tunnels or elevated roads. Reduced toll during off-peak hours (e.g. after midnight until 6.30a.m.) may be considered by the Government, subject to compensation to concessionaires. More petrol stations should be allowed to sell natural gas (NGV) to members of the public.

The Federal Territories are not all created alike. Some of them came about through historical factors, most notably the area of Kuala Lumpur. Its ever expanding borders means that development is continuous and spills into areas like Petaling Jaya, Ampang, and Gombak. Concerted effort must be made so that infrastructure upgrading is continuous and does not stop at the border of the postcode. It may be noted the Federal Territories comes direct under the Federal Government (governed by their respective bodies, e.g. DBKL, Perbadanan Putrajaya, Perbadanan Labuan) whereas adjecent areas are under the care of the Selangor (opposition) state government. For the sake of the rakyat, all parties should work together in a concerted effort to improve the problem of traffic congestion.

Happy Federal Territories Day.