Malaysia’s EV direction: Carbon emission vs Traffic Congestion

BMW electric vehicle charging station by ChargeNow Malaysia

Hi everyone, today I want to talk about why the incentives and green agenda to push for individual electric car ownership by the government in Malaysia will not solve the traffic congestion woes in Malaysia urban settings.

First of all, let me clarify that I am not against electric cars or green initiatives in general. I think they are great steps towards reducing carbon emissions and improving air quality. However, I also think that they are not enough to address the root causes of traffic congestion, which are mainly due to poor public transportation, urban sprawl and car dependency.

Let’s look at some facts. According to a 2019 report by TomTom, a navigation software company, Kuala Lumpur ranked as the 9th most congested city in the world, with an average congestion level of 53%. This means that drivers spend 53% more time on the road than they would in free-flowing traffic. The report also estimated that drivers in Kuala Lumpur waste 227 hours per year stuck in traffic, which is equivalent to about 9.5 days.

Now, imagine if all those cars on the road were electric. Would that make a significant difference in reducing traffic congestion? Not really. Electric cars still take up the same amount of space as conventional cars, and they still need roads, parking lots and charging stations. They may reduce tailpipe emissions, but they do not reduce the demand for driving or the number of trips made. In fact, with the notion of savings that one will get using an EV (compared to ICE vehicles), one might even increase the number of trips!

In fact, some studies have suggested that electric cars may even increase traffic congestion in some cases. For example, a 2018 study by researchers from the University of Cologne and the University of Bonn found that subsidizing electric cars in Germany led to more car purchases and more driving, which offset the environmental benefits of lower emissions. The study also found that electric car subsidies reduced the demand for public transportation and increased congestion costs.

Another example is from Norway, which is often cited as a success story for electric car adoption. Norway has the highest share of electric cars in the world, with about 60% of new car sales being electric in 2019. This was achieved through generous incentives such as tax exemptions, free parking and access to bus lanes. However, these incentives also created some unintended consequences. For instance, a 2019 study by researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the Institute of Transport Economics found that electric car owners drove more frequently and longer distances than conventional car owners, which increased traffic volumes and travel times. The study also found that electric car owners were less likely to use public transportation or active modes such as walking or cycling.

So what is the solution then? How can we reduce traffic congestion and promote sustainable mobility in our cities? Well, I think we need to look beyond electric cars and focus on improving public transportation, encouraging mixed-use development and reducing car dependency, which is nothing new as it’s been highlighted by many parties over the years. So, here are some of suggestions:

  • Invest more in public transportation infrastructure and services, such as buses, trains, trams and bike-sharing systems. Make them reliable, affordable, accessible and comfortable for all users.
  • Implement congestion pricing or road tolls to discourage driving during peak hours and generate revenue for public transportation improvements. This will require political will power at the Federal, State and City government to make this happen.
  • Promote mixed-use development and compact urban form, which allow people to live closer to their workplaces, schools, shops and other amenities. This reduces the need for long-distance commuting and encourages walking or cycling as alternative modes of transport.
  • Educate people about the benefits of public transportation and active modes of transport for their health, environment and wallet. Provide incentives such as discounts or rewards for using them.
  • Regulate the supply and demand of parking spaces to reduce the attractiveness of driving and encourage car-sharing or car-pooling.

Do take note there is a 30 days travel pass offered by the Government and the national operator Prasarana, this is a very good initiative to make public transportation affordable to Malaysians. Commuters can use this pass for 30 days on Rapid bus, LRT, MRT and Monorail. The same pass can be used unlimited times in a day. Based on 2 trips per day, a commuter will only spend less than RM1 per trip (USD 0.19) using public transportation, making Malaysia as one of the countries that offer the cheapest public transport in the world.

These are just some ideas that I think could help us achieve a more sustainable and livable urban environment in Malaysia. Of course, they are not easy to implement and they require political will, public support and cooperation from various stakeholders. But I believe they are worth pursuing if we want to avoid the pitfalls of relying too much on electric cars as a silver bullet for our traffic problems.

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. And don’t forget to subscribe to the website for more updates on sustainability issues. Thanks for reading!

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