By Mariam Mokhtar

Far from understanding the woes and suffering of the ordinary rakyat, one minister has asked citizens who refuse to pay the toll, to wake up early so that they can use alternative routes.

One Ipohite, when asked for his response said, “Where is his compassion? We are already struggling from all manner of price increases. Food. Transport costs. Electricity. Education."

“We cannot tighten our belts any more. My wife works. I have another job at the weekend. I do not have any time with my children.

“It is all right for the minister to tell us to wake-up early, to use roads which are free. Did he care to think that the office opens at 8am. If I arrive early, my boss is not going to allow me to leave early. 

“What if everyone shared the same idea, of taking an alternative route. There would be a massive jam, and we’d spend more time getting to work.

“It is okay for people like the minister. He has an official car and driver. Perhaps, an outrider or two. They breeze through the toll gates. We don’t. Outriders halt the traffic ahead of his car, and clear the road, so that he can whizz to his next appointment. It is easy for him to talk.”

This man, who lives in Ipoh, but whose work, often takes him to Kuala Kangsar and Taiping said, “I cannot drop my children off at school, before 5am in the morning. Which school is open at that time?”

He points to his car and said, “Before we had children, I used my motorbike to go to work, so my wife could use the car. A few of my friends have been killed or seriously injured, when they were thrown from their bikes, when they drove into potholes, on free roads.”

“Concessionaires can increase the toll charges, but how do we demand that more is done to improve the condition of our roads?”

“I could not afford to keep repairing my car, if it were to be damaged, because of the terrible road conditions. Have you seen some of the potholes and uneven road surfaces, on the roads here?” 

His wife picks up the story about the minister. “Soon, he will tell us that we should grow our own food and rear our own livestock because we cannot afford the ever rising cost of food.

“Will he tell us to go on horseback, or use a camel to go to work, because we cannot afford to maintain our car? He sounds like an arrogant man. He would not dare say this, when he is campaigning for GE-14.”

Although they live close to their children’s school, the couple have banned their children from cycling to school.

The wife added, “When we were younger, we used to cycle to school but these days, with increasing traffic on the roads, I fear for my children. Despite the speed limit, drivers speed near schools. A number of children have had nasty accidents with cars and buses.”

“Even if there were bicycle lanes, as in some big cities, I don’t know that I want my child bicycling, because road users in Malaysia, can be very selfish. They are generally bad drivers and they would probably drive in the bicycle lanes.”

The man said, “How much is spent on road maintenance? Ministers only make announcements, about our roads, for two reasons. First. To absolve the government of all responsibility for a massive crash, which was a direct result of poorly maintained roads. Second, the possibility of toll hikes and the announcement that the government is undecided about an increase.”

“We all know that the budget for repairing roads has decreased. We also know that the toll charges have increased. Ordinary commuters, like us, find the toll roads expensive.”

“On the other hand, using the alternative, free roads costs just as much. We pay more for petrol, because the routes are longer. As the road conditions are bad, our cars need more regular maintenance and servicing charges have gone up.”

“So, whichever way you look at it, the motorist always ends up the loser, whilst the toll concessionaires get richer.”