Can a congestion charge stop congestion in KL?

There was an announcement today that the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) is already preparing to implement a congestion charge – or as they call it – “road pricing”, once the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Line 1 from Kajang to Sg Buloh comes online.

The MRT project is due to be online by end of 2016, thus the question from DBKL is on how much they will charge and also, who will manage it.

However, a larger question would be whether such a cost will impact traffic into Kuala Lumpur, or just lead to increased griping about high cost of living without alternatives, as Malaysians are oft to do.

Similarly, it comes to mind that perhaps the congestion charge will impact multiple services, including taxis, buses, even Uber and GrabCar.

A congestion charge will only work if all these factors are taken into account – cost, alternative modes of transport, and exclusions.

If the idea is to reduce congestion, then the cost unto drivers must be substantial, alternative modes of transport must be available, and exclusion of public transport from being charged, are all to be considered.

This will in fact assist the floundering taxi service since there is no way to exclude private vehicles using Uber and GrabCar from the charge. The cost would go back to the customer unless someone would mind asking Uber and Grab whether they will absorb the cost.

At the same time, again, there must be an emphasis on buses and bus lanes as the alternative mode of transport when the train services either break down or go under maintenance.

But most importantly, there is a need to consider whether or not the charge will only apply to cars or also motorcycles.

You see, congestion is not just a car problem, but also one involving all modes of transport including bikes and even trucks. Excluding these two would be erroneous for the City Hall as both are also causes of congestion as well and when we talk about emptying the streets, there can be no halfway point – either pay or take public transport.

The questions of implementing this system must be addressed in the next month or so seeing that the MRT is to be online soon. However, there will be another issue that may become political fodder – which company is implementing the system?

DBKL is still smarting from having one of its deputy heads accused of corruption that it cannot afford another instance where it is swept up in a tide of wrongly picking a contractor based on favouritism.

Therefore, an open tender system with proper documentation showing the weightage in choosing the contractor should be made handy before they get the question from the curious/cynical public.

All in all, charging people to drive into KL is a good move to encourage less cars into the city. But a lot of things need to be considered. What about those living in the City? Do they have to register a separate permit to drive in the city without charges? This would apply to those living in Brickfields and even the rich within the KLCC and Bukit Bintang area?

Are they excluded?

More questions should be raised soon, but all in all, the concept itself has my support.

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