VII. ISSUES AND PROBLEMS: SOME POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
Urban air pollution is reaching a critical level as witnessed during the recent haze crisis in Malaysia. While open burning carried out in Indonesia was a major contributory factor, it cannot be denied that the urban transportation and industrial activities in Malaysia have aggravated the problem. With growing affluence, the vehicle population has been increasing tremendously, thus aggravating the sulphur and lead content in the atmosphere. There are two basic ways of reducing pollution: (a) cutting emissions per vehicle mile travelled; and (b) lowering the total number of vehicle miles travelled Reducing emissions in the urban transport sector requires attention to vehicles, fuels and alternative modes of travel. Investment in unleaded fuels, taxes on leaded fuels and tightened standards for vehicles are among the most important and cost-effective measures that have been implemented so far. Low-cost responses to congestion include traffic management, bus lanes and demand management (such as parking fees, staggered office hours and carpooling). To discourage commuting by car, the government should explore the possibility of raising excise taxes on petrol and diesel oil, as well as regulating the volume of vehicles sold annually, as has been done in Singapore. Consideration should also be given to enforcing higher maintenance standards on existing vehicles, in order to keep emission closer to the design standards, and introducing vehicles that meet new standards.
Reducing the total vehicle miles travelled can be accomplished through curtailing total demand for travel or by altering the mix of vehicles used to carry commuters. The first option can be achieved partly by increasing the cost of travel, but it should be remembered that urban travel demand is relatively inelastic. A better option is to improve spatial planning to reduce total mobility. Altering the mix of vehicles used to carry travellers requires policies on moving people away from the use of private transport and towards other forms of transportation. For that approach a two-pronged approach is necessary. One approach is to raise the cost of private vehicle use through one-way systems and closing streets to provide downtown pedestrian zones, and the introduction of exclusive bus lanes, or by increased parking fees, road tolls, fuel taxes and car pooling programmes. The second approach would be to provide alternatives to private automobiles, which can either be in the form of larger vehicles (e.g., vans, buses or mass transit, and non-motorized options such as the use of bikes). However, the mere provision of public transport will not be sufficient to lure commuters away from their cars. What is needed is the strict enforcement of disincentives for private vehicle use in order to influence the change in behaviour.