The issue of social mobility is a complex matter that has a deep connection and is entrenched by the social structure that spanned through generations. Our social strata are arbitrarily determined by wealth, income, occupation, education, race, gender, social status, and power.
Today, people are able to cross the social-class border with more ease than our ancestors as we shift from worshipping nobles and classifying people based on the colour of their skin, to rewarding merits and promoting equality regardless of social status.
Ironically, the tools and components required to enable social mobility are immobile. People have to physically go to offices, education institutions, hospitals in order to benefit from these facilities.
In order to facilitate social mobility, human mobility must be seamless. Individuals must be able to commute from where they are to where they want to go with ease. While private vehicles are more comfortable and allow people to travel farther than their area, public transportation is more universal and sustainable for the majority of society.
With a reliable and far-reaching public transportation network, a family in Sungai Besi can explore more opportunities with minimal barriers. Parents can work in an MNC in Bangsar while the children attend a school in Taman Shamelin without having to worry about moving places.
Cost and Impacts Of Public Transportation Vs. Private Vehicles
Trains and busses are also more affordable than private vehicles. Comparing a commute from Bandar Tasik Selatan to KL Sentral station, a return ticket costs only RM8 while the average parking fee in KL Sentral area is RM10 per entry. The cost difference can go up to RM800 a month when factoring in fuel, tolls, maintenance, and congestion cost which is often overlooked. That RM800 can be invested in better education, accommodation, and healthcare.
Public transportation also has the benefit of being more environmentally friendly. An average petrol car emits 180g carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometre (km) compared to 82g per km by bus and 27g per km by train. Ride-hailing services also emit more carbon than any alternatives due to “deadheading” – journeys made without passengers. This contributes to low quality of air especially in city centres where road congestion often happens and vehicles emit more CO2 due to stall time.
Public transportation can transport more people with less emission, stall time, and deadheading trips as there will always be more than one passenger at any given time.
While the benefits of public transportation are well known and proven, the existing services and infrastructure here in Malaysia are still far from ideal.
Public Transport In The Capital
The transit train system in the Klang Valley and Greater Kuala Lumpur area consists of 11 train lines with 177 transit stations that have a combined track length of only 555.7 km to cover a land area of over 2,700 square km and a population of over 7 million people. The 3,200 stage busses operated by nine operators are also insufficient.
Comparing it to the Greater Tokyo public transportation, the railway network alone has 158 lines, 48 operators, 4,714.5 km of operational track and 2,210 stations to cover 13,500 square km. They have more tracks per square km at 0.349km to our 0.206km, and more stations per 10 square km at 1.6 stations compared to 0.6 stations in Greater KL.
These people are confined to where they reside, limiting their access to education, healthcare, employment, and facilities within the boundaries of their neighbourhood. They have to choose between owning a private vehicle that will consume more of their disposable wealth or limit their options to local offers.
Of course, building extensive public transportation infrastructure requires a colossal amount of initial investment and is difficult to navigate around the densely packed concrete jungle, but the benefit of it is beyond mere transportation.
It also allows businesses to flourish as more people will be walking from stations to offices or housing areas, thus more pedestrian traffic in shop streets and districts.
Through improved and accessible transportation networks, not only can we provide the people with dignified life but also better facilitate social mobility for all.
This opinion piece is contributed by Bait Al Amanah and edited by Wiki Impact as part of a series to explore social mobility, equality and shared opportunity in Malaysia. This series is written against the backdrop of the Global Social Mobility Index which benchmarks 82 global economies and looks into five key dimensions including Health, Education (access, quality and equity, lifelong learning), Technology, Work (opportunities, wages, conditions) and Protection and Institutions (social protection and inclusive institutions).
The higher a country ranks in terms of social mobility, the greater the chance for the next generation to experience a better life than their parents. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Social Mobility Report 2020, Malaysia ranked #43 out of 82 countries.