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Malaysia for Micro-Mobility

How micro-mobility empowers our communities and why we need to make it our future?

Maisarah Firuz, January 2021

Image by Mat Reding

If there is one thing that the pandemic has caused us to reflect, it is re-thinking our accustomed ways of mobility and transportation in the city. Mobility ensures that all strata of society meaningfully participate in economic and social activities. Its importance could not be further emphasised given that people must continue to move and make a living, even in the context of a public health crisis.


In the initial period of lockdown and government-imposed restrictions on vehicle use, people began to opt for safer and hygienic ways of moving around. Instinctively, the bicycle became the go-to vehicle for short distance travel in other cities, as its design conforms to social-distancing. We see this in Jakarta at the height of the pandemic, during which cycling became the substitute for gojek (e-hailing motorcycles). But was this the case for Malaysia?


If we remove the context of the pandemic and the MCO, single-occupancy vehicles would still be the Malaysian preferred mode of commuting. With 31.2 million registered vehicles already, we can expect more of them to crowd roads in the years ahead. This poses 2 questions for long-term: Is it equitable? And is it sustainable? Similarly, we must look beyond the existing alternative that is e-hailing services and the notion that our LRT/MRT systems could sustain our journeys eventually. One solution that we can explore is micro-mobility and how it can be our future.


Micro-mobility? What is it?


Micro-mobility is a range of ‘small, lightweight devices that operate at speeds below 25km/h' and for distances up to 10km. Bicycles, skateboards and rickshaws (beca) are classic examples of micro-mobility. Other forms of micro-mobility that have appeared over the years include e-bicycles and e-scooters which operate on battery. Its slim size allows individuals to travel through narrow pathways and beat through traffic.


What’s in it for Malaysian communities?


When we travel in slower modes, we develop an affinity to a place and its cultural infrastructures. By immersing ourselves in the immediate environment, there is enhanced interaction with the people and the realities of a place. It makes for a safer environment and better wellbeing urban inhabitants can enjoy. Wouldn’t it be nice to connect and be familiar with the people and local amenities in the areas we frequent?


Micro-mobility is a great equaliser too. It is an effective tool for social integration as it reduces social gap and increases mobility for all classes of people. It has the potential to better connect people with the public transportation system, provide economical options for short distance travel and reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicles. This is especially true for vulnerable members of communities in the low-income groups who need to get around i.e. elder persons, the different-abled, foreign workers and refugees. Then there are those who work in essential services who completely rely on affordable and accessible transport. The need for easing their mobility is crucial, especially during these difficult times.


How does micro-mobility help our cities?


A visible advantage of micro-mobility is that it can vastly reduce our road congestions. We know that being stuck in a jam in Kuala Lumpur is not unusual. On average, Malaysians waste approximately 7 days per year to traffic. If we were to interpret this as an opportunity cost, Malaysia would waste approximately 10-20 billion ringgit per annum to productivity and fuel loss. Imagine the things that we could do with that amount of time (and money) !


In urban areas where spaces are limited, investing in improving urban mobility is definitely a progressive move. Cars take too much freedom - space, cost and time from the people in the city. Most urban trips are short distance, yet often journeyed by cars. For this reason, micro-mobility offers a comparative advantage in terms of travel time and space. On top of that, building and maintaining infrastructure for people-friendly cities is far more efficient than focusing on car-oriented development. In the long run, we cannot afford to rely on finite resources - i.e. fossil fuel and land. Adopting micro-mobility is the right step forward.


Furthermore, micro-mobility spurs positive economic impact by creating jobs and revitalising the local community. A relevant example in Malaysia is the affordable e-scooter rental program launched by Anywheel and Urbanice last year. During the MCO, e-scooters were rented at RM3/day to local food vendors as a means of affordable and equitable mobility for short distance delivery. This is an innovative approach to supporting the livelihoods of communities in neighbourhoods that are just starting out in their businesses. Also, a study in New York has found that when there is high concentration of micro-mobility in an area, there is higher retail purchasing there. This is something Malaysia can expand on.


Clearer Lungs, Clearer Minds


Switching from a sedentary to a more active lifestyle is proven to improve general public health. By walking, cycling or scooting, the greatest benefit to ourselves is healthier minds and bodies. Besides, we could benefit from cleaner air too. Air pollution affects public health more than we care to admit. Adopting micro-mobility could help improve air quality tremendously, as every 1km of micro-mobility could reduce 150g of carbon emissions. In return, we could minimise the incidence of heart and respiratory illnesses, thus minimising healthcare expenditure owing to dealing with these health risks.


Ultimately, Malaysia’s shift to micro-mobility has to start with our collective effort. Together as road users, we must always adhere to safety precautions and proper road etiquette. Let’s be more sympathetic to each other and be mindful of those who use the road differently to us. It’s always good to slow down just a little during these encounters.


Once we’ve established enough support for micro-mobility and call on our local governments to integrate this new necessity, we can then anticipate a future with safer and equitable roads for all users. But to reach that point, let’s start by reassessing our commuting habits and be open to trying micro-mobility sometime. We challenge you to cycle to the nearest store or public park this weekend! In due course, you might just see that micro-mobility can make your life more fulfilling.

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