Friday February 3, 2012
Gridlock all the way home
By Wong Sai Wan
The major festival periods next year fall on extended weekends and this can only mean more vehicles on the road and more headaches for us.
LONG weekends are fun, more so if it is accompanied by festivities like the recent Chinese New Year. Those going back to their home towns started emptying out the city from Jan 20 .
It was those travelling the next day who suffered the longest delays. There were reports of 15-hour journeys from Kuala Lumpur to Penang.
The entire highway system in the country seemed to have ground to a standstill on that Saturday afternoon.
It was as if the whole country decided to take to the road simultaneously.
The expressway concessionaires and the highway authorities had issued advisories, but these were summarily ignored.
Malaysians are like that. They do not take advice easily; they, it would seem, do not like to be told what to do.
For example, PLUS advised highway users from the Klang Valley heading north to Kedah, Perlis and Penang or south to Johor Baru via Skudai, Senai Utara, Ayer Hitam, Yong Peng and Tangkak on to start their journey before noon.
Those heading to Kuala Kangsar, Changkat Jering and Taiping in Perak and those going to Ayer Keroh (Malacca) should begin their journey between noon and 3pm.
Those heading to Ipoh, Simpang Pulai and Gopeng in Perak, as well as Tampin and Alor Gajah (Malacca) were advised begin their journey between 3pm and 6pm, while those heading to Tapah, Bidor, Sungkai, Slim River and Tanjung Malim in Perak and to Senawang, Port Dickson and Seremban in Negri Sembilan should begin their journey after 6pm.
There was an advisory from the Highway Authority of Malaysia for even and odd numbered cars to begin their journey at different times.
But did anyone listen? Apparently not.
On that Saturday, things got so bad that some R&R areas had to be shut because motorists were stopping their cars by the side of the expressways as car parks were full in the R&R areas.
Motorists parking at the entry and exit of the R&R areas were cited to be among the many causes of traffic snarls on the expressways.
Taken as a whole, those who chose to travel at the last minute had a better time.
A neighbour, who chose to leave Subang Jaya for Teluk Intan in Perak on Sunday evening, only experinced slight traffic and reached his destination in three hours.
It was estimated that more than two million vehicles were on the roads throughout Malaysia during the Chinese New Year period, an increase of about 20% from last year.
The same number, if not more, can be expected this weekend as the Birthday of Prophet Muhammad falls on Sunday, Chap Goh Mei on Monday and Thaipusam on Tuesday.
This means that all three main communities in the peninsula will be on the road again, as it is going to be another long weekend.
I expect the traffic to be heavier this weekend than during the Chinese New Year period, but because the celebrations are spread out, I don’t think the roads would be as congested as they were last weekend.
The authorities should be aware that this year’s festive travel nightmares are only a dry run for 2013.
All three major festivals next year – Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Aidil Fitri and Deepavali – will see extended weekends.
Chinese New Year falls on a Feb 10, a Sunday.
With the replacement public holiday, the festive occasion will extend till Tuesday, meaning that the exodus will begin on Friday.
The roads on that Friday evening and the whole of Saturday will once again resemble a huge parking lot.
The school authorities will have to be careful when planning school holidays as too short a break will result in everyone rushing back to the Klang Valley on the same day, turning the return leg into yet another nightmare.
Aidil Fitri is expected to fall on Aug 8, a Thursday, which means that everyone will be off work until Monday.
Again if the school break is not carefully planned, the balik kampung trip will be horrendous both ways.
Deepavali falls on a Sunday (Nov 3), which means Monday will also a public holiday, and the bonus is Maal Hijrah (the Muslim new year) falls on Tuesday (Nov 5) , making it yet another long weekend.
Malaysians will surely hit the roads during this period.
The road and school authorities have to get their act together and start planning now.
For next year, the school authorities must make known their holiday time-table in addition to the school terms.
If you’re already having a headache, do spare a thought for China.
Chinese transport officials expect 3.2 billion trips – from intercity flights and trains to local bus rides in villages – in the six weeks around the Chinese New Year holiday.
This will involve some 900,000 large- and mid-sized buses transporting 80 million people a day, and 14,000 flights and nearly 700 trains.
In Southern China, traffic police dispatched cars and helicopters to escort tens of thousands of migrants riding motorcycles home.
About 230 million people are travelling this holiday, making it the world’s biggest annual human migration.
> Executive editor Wong Sai Wan stayed back in the city and enjoyed the quiet and empty streets for the whole Chinese New Year period to welcome the Year of the Dragon.