PETALING JAYA: The challenges in prioritising urban space for people and the adverse perception surrounding micro-mobility vehicles such as the e-scooter and e-moped are the result of decades of policies that have turned Malaysia into a car-centric nation, according to experts.
Active and sustainable transport advocate Nadhrah A Kadir said the nation has been used to the “car-mentality” for ages.
“Most people, including the policy and decision-makers, traffic engineers, and urban planners, can’t think or act outside of the car,” said the senior lecturer at the school of social sciences in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).
“Thus, we can expect the contentious relationships with e-scooter, not only with road users, majority of whom are drivers, but also with the policymakers.”
She said that drivers’ stereotypes in perceiving other forms of mobility as inferior or a nuisance were due to their lack of understanding on the transport hierarchy of controls, “as in people first, private motor vehicles last”.
“We need to make urban space more inclusive and accessible to diverse users. More importantly, we need to encourage and protect people who choose active or green mobility,” said Nadhrah, the founder of BikeCommute@USM, an advocacy group that encourages and supports bicycle commuting in the university and beyond.
Taking a cue from the current trend in global cities, including Berlin, Paris and Oslo, in aiming for a car-free revolution, the federal government and local authorities should walk the talk to combat climate change.
“Currently, there’s hardly any serious effort to reduce car dependency in our country. This is just common sense especially when government agencies have been preaching about United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, low-carbon cities, road safety, and public health issues,” she said.
While she realises that a car-free policy in Malaysian cities is a radical move under the present circumstances, Nadhrah said that the recent crackdown on e-scooters in Penang’s Unesco Heritage areas reflects on the priorities of the relevant authorities.
“The heritage areas can be designated as car-free zones, so that pedestrians, e-scooters, and bicycle riders can walk and ride safely, and yet we still prioritise car drivers and punish e-scooters under the pretext of public safety,” she said.
“Reclaim the streets and public space by giving priority to people and sustainable transport. Global cities restrict private motor vehicles from entering the inner part of the city,” she said, adding that local councils in Malaysia should learn from Oslo’s success of achieving zero road fatalities involving pedestrians and cyclists.
Nadhrah stressed that the federal government has yet to come to terms with the transition towards sustainable mobility.
“The transport ministry should have undertaken a study and consulted stakeholders before rushing into a ‘one-size fits all’ approach on e-scooters.
“There are variables to consider such as geography, municipality size, speed limits and other factors before regulating e-scooters,” she said.
Travel behaviour analyst and traffic psychology expert Nur Sabahiah Abdul Sukor said micro-mobility should be a supporting mode and act as an option for sustainable transport.
“The issue will not be solved if the built environment is not supporting the modes. How about kids? Do they need a licence as well?” she asked.
“Shouldn’t we be promoting the usage of micro-mobility by providing a better-built environment instead of focusing on a complex procedure of licensing and beating around the bushes?”