A ‘Kapcai-Free’ Kuala Lumpur?

Automologist LING might have her dream come true...but to the detriment of her fellow Malaysians.

Kapcai n. a slang term derived from Cantonese for a small motorbike, used in Malaysia. This popular mode of transportation terrifies the roads of Malaysian cities in hordes. 

I don’t care for the motorbikes that travel the roads of Kuala Lumpur and Penang. I have written about them enough, in less than favourable light (read: Could our Malaysian Illegal Bike Racers be the next Professional Champion? and The Survivor's Guide to Driving in Penang). From recent news headlines, it seems that there is a possibility of a ban on all kapcais in Kuala Lumpur, in the not too distant future.

During the workday, the city’s population swells to five to seven million from the influx of workers. When speaking to The Star newspaper, Federal Territories Minister, Tengku Adnan, said that the ministry was considering banning motorists from driving into the city, particularly motorbikes since “many cities do not allow kapcai to come in”.

Now, you might think that I’d be happy about this development. Sure, it will be a much more pleasant commuting experience for me, but I am not so self-centred that I do not realise that millions of Malaysians still rely on this two-wheeled mode of transportation. Low-income earners already have to bear the increasing prices of consumer goods, with the addition of the Goods and Services Tax and the removal of food subsidies.

I often draw up to a petrol pump to find that the previous customer had pumped about only seven ringgit worth of fuel – that’s a full tank for a kapcai (I pay about seven times that to fill up the tank of my 1.3cc MyVi). For the average kapcai rider, a single tankful can last for up to five days. On the other hand, taking the public transport from where I live to the centre of Kuala Lumpur costs almost seven ringgit for a return trip. It does seem ridiculous that commuting on a private vehicle is cheaper than with our public transport.

Our public transport fares are actually quite low when compared with that of other major cities across the world. So, rather than making the fares even cheaper, the government could make it too expensive to ride a motorbike into the city (taxes, entry fees, etc), hence making it more attractive to use public transport. But the unfortunate reality is that Malaysians are too poor to afford even reasonably priced public transport fares.

In a recent article in the Malay Mail, the daily pointed out that 2016 sales numbers of BMW Malaysia and Perodua could be an indication of an underlying social problem. BMW registered a record high number of sales, despite the incredibly challenging economy and car market last year, while Perodua, the best-selling affordable car brand, managed 3,000 fewer than the year prior. What does a robust growth for luxury cars alongside a stunted growth for cheap cars show? Growing inequality, that’s what. The rich is getting richer while the poor is sinking ever deeper into the mire of poverty, and the middle class continues to shrink.

Social inequality is a larger problem which needs a more complicated solution than this humble blog can offer. But where does that leave us in regards to the congestion in the cities? Tengku Adnan is not completely oblivious to the fact that there are many Malaysians out there who are barely making ends meet. According to him, a kapcai ban in the city is still on the cards when cheaper public transport is available.

In my idealist mind, I’d prefer that the income disparity be corrected, the cost of riding a kapcai be increased and thus priced out of affordability (and existence!), and everyone can merrily ride the buses, trains and taxis together.

image: mybuletin


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