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The World Bank’s 12th Malaysia Economic Monitor: Transforming Urban Transport report has revealed a treasure trove of statistics on the state of private and public transport in the country – needless to say, some significant reforms are needed if we are to progress as a nation.

The urban sprawl (nearly 75% of Malaysians live in cities), high reliance on cars (estimated two cars per resident in KL) and inadequate public transport has led to congestion and low public transport usage (only 17%, compared to Singapore’s 62% and Hong Kong’s 89%).

Additionally, the report finds that Greater Kuala Lumpur residents spend a crazy 250 million hours a year stuck in traffic and travel 29 km/h slower on average during morning peak hours, costing 1.1-2.2% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2014, or a dizzying RM12.7-24.7 billion in losses (including delay costs, fuel wasted and economic cost of emissions), as well as a reduction in subjective well-being.

A number of policies encourage the use of private vehicles at the expense of public transport, and the “comparatively low cost of owning and operating a car in Malaysia” is mentioned. The report adds that MITI’s National Automotive Policy (NAP) supports affordable car ownership and associated vehicle sales, and that tariffs on foreign-made vehicles, the wide availability of affordable car financing and affordable fuel costs all drive private vehicle ownership, leading to over-reliance on the car, congestion and big losses.

While the World Bank lauds the Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) for achieving quite a bit in only four to five years – “few public agencies in charge of public transport around the world have developed this level and diversity of capabilities and responsibilities in such a short period of time”, including rail- and road-based mass transit projects and their coordination – it cites the lack of unified planning as a major barrier to efficient urban transport.

Specifically, it suggests Malaysia to carry out transport planning at metropolitan (city) level instead of the current federal (national) level, saying metropolitan-level lead agencies can “oversee integrated planning, maintenance and service delivery of all modes of urban transport.” It also says policies that promote public transport should be aligned with those that discourage car use in congested areas, like London’s congestion charge and Singapore’s Electronic Road Pricing (ERP).

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Introducing local taxes on fuel, it says, will result in environmental gains and trim the fiscal deficit by RM10-19 billion, as well as fund transport. “The recent move to scrap fuel subsidies was a win for equity, the environment, and the budget, with the savings helping the government remain on the path of fiscal consolidation,” said World Bank senior country economist for Malaysia Frederico Gil Sander.

“Malaysia can now take the next step and explore additional revenue sources such as gasoline taxes that can also promote and finance public transport and a cleaner environment,” he added.

Introduced in 2009, the Malaysia Economic Monitor is a six-month assessment report of the country’s development by the World Bank, as well as stating future expectations and current policy issues. Read the full report below.