Congestion: Poor Urban Traffic Management and Control in Malaysia 

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Traffic Congestion occurs when a selected road is managing vehicles more than its capability during certain times throughout a day (Kumarage, 2004). Traffic users are losing their precious time in “traffic jam” whenever they are “trapped” in the congestion, reducing productivities in their activities (Wan Ibrahim, 2009). The number of peoples owning at least one private vehicles, especially passenger cars, is blooming at an incredibly high rate. Department of Statistics, Malaysia (2018) have recorded a significant increase from 22 million to 32 million over ten years (1998 – 2017). Number of registered vehicles in Malaysia, according to Royal Malaysia Police (2018), increases together with the exploding population growth, from 9.1 million in 1998 to 28.7 million in 2017.

Ministry of Transportation, Malaysia (2018) in their hard works on preparing Transport Statistics of Malaysia in 2017, hits a highest record of 229.7 thousands vehicle flow per day on Average Daily Traffic at Kuala Lumpur within 10 years from 2017. Heavy congestions are being expected to occur in most highways of Malaysia as the existing highway of fixed capacity are currently providing services to vehicles more than their maximum capacity. A case study conducted by Chen and Larry (2009) in determining Level of Service (LOS) of current highways in Kuching area, shows an intolerable LOS (grade E) of existing highway in Kuching, and the current congestion level is expected to become worse throughout the years.

Road Engineering Association of Malaysia (2000) defines LOS grade E of highway as follows: “Having unstable flow, low operating speeds and stoppages of momentary duration. Traffic Volumes are at or near capacity congestion and intolerable delay”. Statistical information stated above shows the intolerable congestion level currently faced by road users in Malaysia ranging from 2008 to 2017 and this condition is getting more chronic in future if no proper mitigation measures taken into actions to reduce and resolve current problematic condition.

Poor urban traffic management and control in Malaysia should be responsible to heavy traffic congestion level faced by every road user nowadays. Abelfatah, Zaly Shah and Othman (2015) in their research shows government’s policies encouraging Malaysians to have their own vehicles since independence of our country are the main cause of heavy traffic congestions on every highways. The blooming of Malaysia’s private car manufacturers (Proton, Naza, and Perodua) which is obviously oversupplying for a small population in Malaysia, a relatively manageable petrol fuel costs where Malaysia’s government is currently subsidizing the selling price of petrol fuel, and loans with low interest rate which are easily available in Malaysia, favour the ownership of private cars and motorcycles, resulting in heavy congestion levels of highways in Malaysia, as stated by Abelfatah et al. (2015).

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Malaysia has introduced few alternatives of public transport such as rail services, commuter, electric train services (ETS) as mitigation measures to counter current traffic congestion level. However, these alternatives of public transportation systems are not performing at their best. Transport Statistics Malaysia 2017 from Ministry of Transport Malaysia (2018) shows a significant decrease on number of passengers using rail services (4.0 million passengers – 3.1 million passengers per year), and a slight increase on number of passengers using both commuters (36.6 million passengers – 37.3 million passengers per year) and ETS (0.2 million passengers starting from year 2010 – 4.1 million passengers per year) from year 2008 to 2017, which shows the low usage of public transport among Malaysian, as compared to Malaysia’s population growth and number of registered private vehicles within 10 years. Findings of Abelfatah et al. (2015) shows satisfactory investments of Malaysia’s government in road constructions, on the other hand, public transportation system are receiving fewer investments as compared to road constructions. The unbalanced scenario faced by current transportation system in Malaysia further enhances usage of private vehicles, raising current traffic congestion to another intolerable level.

Malaysia is in an urgent need on discovering fast, efficient and long-lasting strategies handling current traffic congestion to a tolerable level. Implementing policies aiming to reduce private vehicles on service roads could be a possible solution, where few countries have been practicing since 1970’s until today. Japan International Cooperation Agency (2010) suggests implementing Transport Demand Management (TDM) to counter traffic jam during peak hours in Bangladesh. TDM proposes countries to have staggered work hours, where different sectors such as educational institutions, offices and financial sectors, are having different working hours. Kumarage (2004) strengthens TDM’s suggestion by proposing scheduled working hours for different sectors in Colombo and other cities of Sri Lanka. Staggered working hours aimed to distribute high traffic demand during peak hours into different time sections, where congestion levels are highly reduced and highways are having enough capacities to handle and to serve road users.

TDM encourages public transportation’s usage by prioritizing traffic treatments for public transportation (Japan International Cooperation Agency, 2010). This method is recognized by The Working Group on Urban Transport for 12th Five Year Plan in India (Alam & Ahmed, 2013) and is supported by Kumarage (2004). Kumarage (2004) proposed to have more alternatives on public transport providing affordable and satisfying service to road users, while Alam & Ahmed (2013) in their case study discovers the operation of metro rail transport in major cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and others as an effective alternative in reducing traffic congestion in India. It is highly recommended, by Abelfatah et al. (2015), to have investments in line with population and economic growth in Malaysia, on developing public transportation system providing affordable and satisfying services, which are relatively faster and cheaper than private vehicles.

Financial penalties, or a strict road pricing and parking charge system, are recommended by TDM (Japan International Cooperation Agency, 2010) and Abelfatah et al. (2015) in promoting the use of public transportation system. Few countries have been implementing these strategies and reduces traffic congestion level effectively, for instance, Singapore charges private cars on road with expensive taxes but buses are excused from being charged (Kumarage, 2004). Most European and U.S. cities are having high rates of parking charges towards private vehicles, while London is reducing amount of parking spaces and restricting available parking duration for private vehicles. Park-and-ride facilities, as proposed by Kumarage in 1997, encourages private car users to shift their transportation modes to public transportation systems, to reduce the amount of vehicles using local streets in major cities. National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) and Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) from the Government of India features parking policies, where high parking fees are charged onto private car users and parking places are encouraged for public transportation systems such as buses to promote better integration on public transportation (Alam & Ahmed, 2013). However, a relatively low charge on parking rates in India leads to the ineffectiveness in implementing this policy, enhances the usage of private vehicles and increases congestion level in major cities of India (Alam & Ahmed, 2013). A strong law enforcement should be applied to make this policy a success in controlling traffic demand.

Traffic supply management should be carried out together with traffic demand management to effectively reduce traffic congestion level in Malaysia. An easy way to manage current transportation system is to construct new infrastructures to cater current congestion level, which is widely used by engineers, politicians and administrators (Kumarage, 2004). Providing new transport infrastructure capacity by adding new roads, expressways and railways are always the first choice selected by traffic engineers, however, this suggestion can only handle traffic problems in a short period, and is relatively expensive (Kumarage, 2004). Japan International Cooperation Agency (2010) suggests widening “bottlenecks” to decrease delay time and long queue during peak hours in Bangladesh, as shown in Figure 2 & Figure 3. Kumarage (2004) includes the construction of grade-separated intersections under this catergory. This method can handle traffic problems in short terms, however, as “traffic fills whatever road space provided”, heavy congestion level will arise after few years, worsen the traffic congestion level in the future.

Another countermeasure to reduce high congestion level is to install Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), as suggested by Kumarage (2004). ITS suggested by Kumarage (2004) is expected to have incident detection programs, motorist information systems, and towing / enforcement efforts capable in reducing negative impacts of accidents and other non-recurring incidents, and to increase capacity and reliability of ITS. Japan International Cooperation Agency (2010) has developed a Real-time Traffic Control System to counter traffic congestions in Bangladesh. This system aims to manage congestion and safety of road users at different stages.

For instance, this system prioritizes critical traffic flow at intersections when traffic demand is over-saturated, maximizes green time efficiency at critical intersections when traffic demand is nearly saturated, and controls vehicles’ travelling speed within a safe range by selecting best traffic movement pattern for real-time offset control (Japan International Cooperation Agency, 2010). Implementation of ITS in traffic control system enables real-time traffic control during peak hours and off-peak hours, improves safety of road users, and manages traffic congestion level in an effective and efficient way. To conclude, poor urban traffic management and control is contributing to the high traffic congestion level in Malaysia. Traffic mitigation measures, either managing traffic demand or supply, should be implemented in current traffic and transportation system to reduce traffic congestion level in no time.

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