Connexion: Housing developers must become transit-oriented

By Joachim Ng

It is important that any house – whether affordable, medium-cost, or luxury, be designed and built in a setting that promotes good family living and family values. The interest of the family is usually overlooked by developers and the Government. They see housing from a purely economic viewpoint. But a home is the principal base for the family institution, and the basic requirements are the same for every family.

The primary requirement is that working parents must strike a work-life balance in order to devote adequate time to be with their children and show them the path to become responsible citizens. Hence, fast transit to and from work is necessary.

But developers stress accessibility in their advertisements. This is not the same as transit. Roads and highways are just long stretches of premix. They don’t ensure you a fast journey to the office.

Perakians who regularly make business or leisure trips to Klang Valley will have encountered the Monday-Friday traffic logjam that takes you two hours to go from Point A to Point B, a distance that can be covered in less than 30 minutes on a Sunday. Klang Valley parents waste two hours going to work and another 2 hours coming home, whether they’re on the expressway, the main road or a side road.

This old rugged paradigm has to be shoved off the road. The new paradigm should be that you drive to work only if you have other stops as well. On days when the journey is strictly to and from work, you should not drive but leave your car at home. To enable this paradigm shift, developers and the Government need to focus on public transit.

All housing areas must cease to be public transit deserts and become transit-oriented developments (TODs) with bus routes traversing every road in non-gated communities, stop signs spaced about 10 houses apart, and a stop sign at every condo. But as things are, everybody wants to drive because buses are so unreliable, unpunctual, and scarce. Wait for the bus and you will be very late for work, if at all a bus comes near.

Instead of building more highways as these have not reduced congestion, the money should be invested in buying many more smaller buses so that there is saturation coverage and service timeliness, particularly for trips within 5 km and for trips to light rail/MRT stations. In locations where bus stops are spaced mysteriously far apart, e-scooters should be made available for a ride from home to the bus stop at a low rate of 50 sen.

For buses to rule the roads, the cost of personal driving must be increased by removing all petrol subsidies for non-commercial vehicles. Instead, the bus industry should be assisted to bring it some notches closer to the Singapore ride experience. The goal is not to reduce car ownership but to greatly reduce the frequency that owners use their cars for travel to work.

Ipoh City Council has the great foresight to plan early for a Light Rail Transit (LRT) or an Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART) system to ensure that Kinta Valley does not get twinned with Klang Valley. Whichever system is decided upon, Ipoh must avoid Klang Valley’s monumental blunder of failing to establish the “last mile” connectivity.

Small shuttle buses must be readily available to fetch passengers from their housing area to the rail station and back from the station to home after the return trip. Either the shuttle bus comes near your house to fetch you or there should be a regular bus stopping near your house that can take you to the shuttle or straight to the station.

For “last mile” efficiency, shuttle buses must be available with their engines running so you can hop on and go once you exit the station. This is not the case in Klang Valley. You see many buses at stations, but they are in sleep mode and you will yourself fall asleep waiting for the driver to come on board. The bus scheduling lacks customer focus; hence the preference is to drive your own car if you can afford to buy one.

Family bonding is also tightened when parents take their children to their workplaces from time to time so that the kids know what’s keeping the old folks busy away from home. Such bonding adventures get easier if all housing developments are planned as clusters with job opportunities, schools, entertainment, shopping, and medical facilities. This is a better alternative than transporting workers on drearily long journeys to work every day.

To build complete townships ringing the city centre, the Government must be involved in all stages of urban planning as it may be necessary to group a few developers together so that jointly their projects can muster sufficient population to support a wide spread of retail and commercial activities.

Another reason for bundling transport and housing together is that the economy needs to move with greater speed in an ecologically sustainable direction. If your friend in Klang Valley takes four hours driving to work and back home, five days a week, he is one of the culprits pouring some 30 million tonnes of vehicular CO2 emissions into the atmosphere every year. By all means own a car, but drive it to work only twice a week at most.

Malaysia’s solution to offset petrol burning is to plant more trees. But one new tree can only absorb 2.5kg of CO2 per year. You need 400 trees to absorb 1 tonne of CO2, and 1.2 billion trees to clear 30 million tonnes. To get a start on this, the Certificate of Completion and Compliance for all new residential and commercial buildings must require that the roofs, facades, walls, and fencing be draped with creepers to absorb CO2.

Owners of existing buildings will resist spending money on growing creepers. So we need to make a rapid transition to electric vehicles. But at the current starting price of RM150,000 an electric vehicle (EV) is a status symbol of your wealth level. It is not marketed as a must-use device to reduce CO2, and hence less than half percent of all vehicles in Malaysia are electric. We are pulling and not driving the electric vehicle.

To put EV into fast gear, just take a memory trip back to the 1970s when electric milk delivery vans made the rounds in London. They were cheaply produced because they were basic vehicles. Basic EVs can be locally produced or assembled locally and sold at below RM75,000 with the target market being the residents of medium-cost and affordable homes. These two categories make up 80-90% of all homes.

It is true that EV batteries are not that green because their charge comes from coal-fired power plants that spew CO2. However, Tenaga Nasional Berhad has clarified that the emission from EV is 23% lower than for a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine burning petrol. TNB is also moving towards greater solar power generation.

In one quick acceleration, we can leapfrog ahead of other nations if there is determination to be solutions-oriented instead of being problem-fixated. One problem with owning an EV car is the poor availability of charging stations. This problem can be bypassed if petrol stations double up as EV charging stations.

Property developers must feel obliged to be transit-oriented and pitch in to sponsor the installation of EV charging stations at all petrol stations within or near their developments. This is the least they can do, as the real estate industry contributes 40% of total carbon emissions. Each car should be given only 15 minutes of  charging time, as that will provide sufficient power for a trip to the office and back. Do a full charge at a shopping mall carpark.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ipoh Echo

Show More

One Comment

  1. It’s not Rocket Science. Go and look and learn from other places and countries and change. Here in Ipoh we see lots of nice modern buses… Empty, or nearly so, why? Something is wrong. I spent many years travelling to work by bus and underground in the city and it was way more preferable than driving and a lot less stressful. Are the buses too expensive, late or unpredictable? Or are driving cars, motorbikes, too cheap? Sometimes people need persuading. Anyway not so bad in Ipoh yet, not like in Penang and KL.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button