Lacking logistics costly for everyone

WELL, that was a big surprise, wasn't it? Who would have thought the Electoral Commission would decide to host the election midweek, right after a three-day holiday period?

And with the 14th general election to take place on Wednesday May 9, the most glaring lacking in Malaysia. And no, it's not common sense – I know many were thinking, it has once again reared its head. We see it every time Malaysia goes through a holiday, but it was oblivious to many.

And that is the lack in logistics connecting Malaysians nationwide for travel. While we could see it during a Raya celebration or even Chinese New Year and Christmas, it was one that was properly planned. People would time their travels and take enough leave to time it out for everyone's benefit. You can't do that for an election day in the middle of the week, with no public holidays in sight.

But more importantly, is it even affordable? Do we have enough planes, trains and roads to make it accessible for everyone to arrive on polling day or the night before? In fact, does every constituency even have enough lodging for the circus that is to ensue?

Due to the constrictions with flights, however, the prices have gone up exorbitantly while airlines such as MAS, Cathay and even Malindo have made it cheaper by waiving some fees. Yet, with no price controls, which I mentioned Malaysians needing (March 5), it has gone up to RM600 and above – even higher than a flight to Bali.

However, AirAsia has taken the lead in lowering ticket prices for the election. Tan Sri Tony Fernandes took to Twitter to acknowledge the problem of high prices and has chosen to lower ticket prices for flights on May 8 and 9.

At the same time, it took 24 hours for all the tickets of the intercity KTM trains to be fully booked. One can't argue that the election makes good business for the ailing train system, which will hopefully be upgraded with more trains in the future.

That being said, everyone without their own transport and relying on the bus, will probably be in the same dilemma of high prices and long hours on the road. Which brings us to the next problem – traffic congestion on all highways heading East, West, North and South, basically everywhere.

But this has also shown Malaysians pulling together to do something beautiful – to bear the burden of lowering costs of travel for voters wanting to go home to vote. Initiatives have been aplenty on Twitter and Facebook to collect funds to subsidise costs.

While I'm not going to argue why people living in the Greater Klang Valley decided to keep their hometown address for voting, what we should be discussing instead is how to make it easier for them to travel without needing to drive their own mode of transport.

Thus, my personal stance is the need to improve our mass transport networks across the nation and also, to keep it affordable for everyone. This means pushing further with rail networks and increasing intercity buses to allow more access to local transport.

It is one of the reasons I support the East Coast Rail Line all the way up to Tumpat. We have been too focused on our side of the Peninsular and have abandoned the rail lines for ages and focused instead on highways, which get congested once or twice a year during festive periods.

And it has to be affordable – which is why flight tickets locally within Malaysia, including between East Malaysia and the Peninsular should be priced lower than international flights. Yes, it's not a "free market" solution, but it's also because we're a nation divided by unique geography that needs to be brought together.

We need to understand that for far too long, we have abandoned the need to actually take ourselves out of our individual cars and minimise our need for comfort space, from a car fit for four people to a simple seat on a plane or a chair on a train.

For far too long, we have been spoiled with the need for space – and those days are over. With increased traffic comes congestion, and with congestion comes waste in the form of burnt idle energy from your petrol tanks and maintenance for the wear and tear of your cars.

While we can argue about politics in this heated election season, we need to do something that brings people closer together face-to-face, not via a Skype call or Facetime, but by making it easier for a person to travel back and forth to their loved ones in the rural areas from the urban jungles. Or even the other way around once in a while.

As our nation ages, it becomes necessary to point out that in due time even the elderly will need an alternative mode of transport other than driving, and needing only to take a car or a Grab to visiting their families in the city.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com