Choked

By LIM SUE GOAN
Translated by DOMINIC LOH
Sin Chew Daily

Having travelled up and down the country during the CNY holidays, I have once again come to experience Malaysia's own version of "spring festival traffic woes."

Vehicular traffic along the North-South Highway is astonishingly enormous. Luckily most people have taken about a whole week off and this has somewhat relieved the pressure on our transportation network. With our public transportation services leave much to be desired, the sudden surge of private automobiles on roads has taken a tremendous toll on the country as a whole.

Our transport minister recently announced that some 1.31 million new vehicles were registered in 2012, up 8.23% from the 1.21 million registered the previous year. 540,391 Malaysians obtained their driving licences last year, 2.5% more than in 2011. Meanwhile the MAA said vehicle sale hit a record high of 627,753 in 2012.

With a population of 28 million and a cumulative total of 22.7 million vehicles (including motorcycles) registered in the country, vehicle growth rate has long overtaken our population growth.

On the surface, increase in car sales should be a positive development as the treasury could look forward to higher tax collection. For instance, the JPJ chalked up an impressive revenue of RM3.327 billion last year, 4.93% more than in 2011. At the same time, car dealers have been enjoying a bumpy year as well. However, the nation as a whole is vastly disadvantaged.

First of all, a sudden surge in vehicles will definitely deal a serious blow on our environment and physical health. The recent smog hazard in Beijing has been blamed on the perpetual increase in the number of motorised vehicles in the metropolis.

Meanwhile, the perennial traffic standstill in KL has given rise to the problems of compromised productivity, time depletion and emotional stress, among others. Such intangible loss is hard to estimate.

Secondly, surge in the number of cars also means increased fuel consumption and government subsidies. The BN government's subsidy for RON95 is about 95 sen per litre. With vehicular traffic seeing a spike during the CNY festive season, more subsidies will ensue. It is foreseeable that the government may have to allow fuel prices to go up after the general elections.

Thirdly, increased car sales could translate into accelerated forex loss. The automotive industry trade deficits for 2010, 2011 and the first nine months last year stood at RM14.7 billion, RM13.6 billion and RM12.2 billion respectively. Even the spare parts industry ran annual deficits of about RM3.5 billion.

Despite the fact that we are a car producing country, we have been a net importer of cars owing to the undesirable qualities of our national cars. Even as the Malaysian government endorses a free trade policy for automobiles, we are in actuality practising protectionism where tariff is concerned, resulting in more debt-laden motorists.

Perhaps it is high time for the government to review its automotive policy. That said, the government only plans to open up energy-saving automobile sector and continues to protect the national car manufacturer now sold to a private conglomerate, until the automotive free trade policy goes into effect in 2016.

It is hoped that our automotive policy could be further liberalised after the 13th general elections.