Unnecessary Provocations


Perhaps it was the one of the ways God test our patience…

(The “usual” queues at the toll plaza – the traffic moves faster if everyone queues up and wait for their turn. Imagine what happens if one idiot decides to drive between the proper queues and tries to cut in. Before you know it, another line had formed in between the 2 original lines and the traffic comes to a crawl. Image source: http://www.mobshare.in)

One of my “targets’ for this year is to keep my cool on the road – unfortunately, it was easier said than done.

I had to leave office early one day last week – I had to take my HEO to the clinic – and I know immediately that my journey back home would not be so stress-free. I know that the traffic jam would be insane and there would be plenty of motorists out there who don’t give a damn on traffic laws, simple courtesy or a sense of common sense and whether they were inconvenience to others and cared if they have caused the traffic jam even worse.

The traffic towards to the toll plaza was not so bad – there was easily identified queues formed at the toll plaza although it is high time for the toll operator to put up traffic cones to control the queue jumpers. I just needed to pick my line and patiently wait for my turn. Things was not so bad – the line was still moving albeit slowly. There were queue jumpers (as usual) but thankfully it did not happen to my lane. The queue jumpers has just made the other lane worse and brought it to a crawl and they are now itching to shift to the lane that did not have any queue jumpers and still moving.

It was still early in the evening as I paid the stressful looking lady at the toll booth and queued up on the lane that was merging with another lane which itself was merging with another at the front. Respectfully, the merging point was done quiet orderly – each lane took their turn to join and kept the lane moving on an orderly pace.

Not the idiot in a white Myvi at the back of my lane – she saw the small gap between the 2 lanes and suddenly pulled out to overtake the rest. She did not got far as the two lanes was quiet close to each other and there was no room to cut in further but by her idiotic act (she only managed to overtake 2 cars) she managed to slowed the 2 lanes down and for a moment, there was standstill (with domino effect to the traffic jam at the back).

Other drivers took a long look at this driver – we did not know what she intended to achieve with the queue jumping stunt in that small area. You tell me, how to keep cool when you are facing drivers like this – nothing much achieved but only to irritate others and make the traffic jam even worse. Despite the stares that this idiot was getting from the other drivers, this idiot was only interested in queue jumping again. Upfront she did it again.

I am pretty much lost with the logic – perhaps this driver was hoping to queue jump 1 – 2 drivers all the way, she could hope to jump ahead of the whole insane traffic jam. Ya, if I was that selfish driver, it would make sense. Who cares about others as long as I could get home probably 5 minutes earlier, right? 5 minutes earlier for this selfish idiot but half an hour for the rest who follow the rules? Yes, life is unfair but it does not mean the guilty one should be left to enjoy the fruit of their “crime”.

The good thing was that although the journey home remained challenging but it was not as bad as the situation at the toll plaza. There was less “provocations” at this part of the road.

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The Highway Promise


It certainly looks like a highway robbery than a sincere promise to maintain the highway toll rates

(We are ok with highways and highway toll booths but we are pissed off with the one sided agreement and the huge compensation being paid from the tax payers’ pockets. Image source: http://travelerfolio.com)

During the recent Budget 2011, Najib made this bold statement that the toll rates on four highways owned by PLUS Expressways Berhad (other highway operators, apa macam?) will not be raised for the next five years as a means of alleviating the burden of highway users. For those who have been keeping their heads in the ground, this may sound like a sincere, heavenly promise by politicians who are concerned with the rakyat’s plights. But for the rest of us, we all know that when certain things promised by the politicians seem to be too good to be true, there is always a catch to the deal.

What Compensations?

No one seems to ask the question – what happens to the toll amount that is supposed to be increased by PLUS? Surely PLUS as a business entity is unlikely to give such huge discount (even if it has all the MPs in the Parliament at the top of their voice, protesting for any toll hike) or ignore what is entitled under the agreement. It does not make good business sense and certainly PLUS have their shareholders (which includes the EPF) to answer to. So, opting PLUS to take a huge hair-cut is likely to be out of the question.

And Malaysian Insider reports:-

Toll highway operator PLUS Expressways Bhd could be compensated as much as RM5 billion over the next five years for not raising toll rates. The highway concessionaire is also owed about RM2.5 billion from previous compensation as at June 30.

(Source)

What about the previous compensations and the future compensations?

Toll compensation to PLUS amounted to RM655 million, RM698 million and RM731 million for 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively. PLUS has 30 more years before the concession expires. Without even taking into consideration the direct toll collection from motorists, the government’s compensation amount over the next 30 years would exceed RM68 billion should the current toll rates be maintained. This is after taking into account the fact that PLUS is entitled to increase toll tariffs by 10% every three years.

(Source)

Compensating the highway operators for not increasing their toll is not something new. Compensation (also known as subsidies to some) amounting to millions have been paid whenever the Government have requested the highway operators to maintain the current toll rate. It has been so since the days when Samy Vellu was heading the Works Ministry. PLUS for instance, was reported to have received compensation for almost 850 million for last year alone

For those who are using the highway, freezing the increase of the toll rates may sound like a welcome measure but look again, where the Government is getting the money to compensate the highway operators. Ultimately, it is going to be the rakyat who is going to pay for these compensations. At the end, the net effect of freezing the toll rates ends up meaning nothing.

(Either you get the rakyat to pay the increased toll rates or get the rakyat to pay for the compensation. Either way, the rakyat is screwed. Image source: http://thestar.com.my)

And compensation paid by the Government does not go into the development of the country but rather it goes to enriching the already cash rich business entities. Unlike petrol subsides, there is no external or global factor or limited supply that causes the increase of the toll rates (hence requiring heavy compensations to maintain the rates artificially low). And still remember the warning by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala on compensations?

Let us recap…

Malaysia will be bankrupt by 2019 if it does not cut subsidies and rein in borrowings, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala on Thursday.

(Source)

Idris Jala even proposed that the “toll rates to increase in mid-2010 as per concession agreement except for highways without alternative toll-free routes”. So, why Najib is going on the wrong side of the road? It is obvious that that when the rates are not increased, it is only mean compensation to be made in its place.

To make things worse, the compensation to the highway operators is going to come from those who are not using the highway in the first place. Not many of us uses PLUS highway on daily basis (how many out of the 28.2 million Malaysians?) but if the Government is going to compensate PLUS for the frozen toll rates, one can be assured that their tax money is going to work hard (direct or indirect ) to compensate these highway operators. Is it fair? The one who is using the PLUS highway is enjoying the old toll rate, courtesy of a populist, short-sighted budget but the one who is not using PLUS highway is “paying” for the compensation that runs in billions.

Telling the rakyat that the toll will not be increased for x number of years without a viable proposal on the highway agreement and no means to reduce these painful compensations is anything but empty talk. Not when the money is coming from the right pocket to the left pocket. There is no real saving to the tax payers – it would have been fairer to get those who are using the highway to pay for the usage instead of spreading it to the rest in name of compensation. That way, we can see the money paid to the correct usages – road users’ money to usage of the highway and the Government’s “money” to development of the country (something that Idris Jala pointed earlier).

New Highways, Old Problems?

Then we have this rather disturbing news:-

The Najib administration should explain the tender awards process of four new tolled highways, amid reports of them being directly awarded, DAP MP Tony Pua said today.

(Source)

We are not complaining on the new highways – after all, highways helps in development and somehow provide relief to traffic jams. So we were meant to believe whenever the Government talk about awarding new highways (just wish the bastards who signed off on behalf of the people for the bloody highway that cuts through Puchong are out there, stuck in traffic jam,  with a full bladder, wasting their time and fuel after paying the insane toll charges with their hard earned money). Nah, we don’t mind the new highways but how it is awarded and how it is shrouded in secrecy is what we have a problem with.

The Government says that the highway agreements are subject to Official Secrecy Act but we don’t have a clue why it is deemed secret. Certainly, agreements made by the Government with any business entities will not go to the extent to cause suffering and multiple losses to the people. Certainly methods of calculation of the toll rates will not jeopardize the national security of the country.

In fact, if the agreement is made public, perhaps the road users who are paying the insane toll rates may able to understand as to why the cash rich highway operators increase the toll rates of the already heavily jammed highway (which by the way, built on existing trunk road) to RM0.60 at one go and wanting to increase even more. But no, the Government fought tooth and nail to maintain the agreement secret (is it because they worry the agreement may be challenged in a court of law?).

Now we are hearing that the new 4 highways were directly awarded. How we know that whoever drafting the agreement and working out the formula for toll rate increase have not made the same mistakes that the idiots in the past have done? Has the proper toll reduction mechanism been built this time around? Is there going to be periodic review of the agreement? Is the highway agreement really water-tight and in favor of the people and the country and not helping a profit driven business entity to make even more money?

No Viable Alternatives?

And what happened to the proposed buy back the highway concessionaires that sounded more cost effective than the yearly compensations that the Government keeps paying from public funds?

In 2009, Nutgraph reported:-

The DAP has suggested that the government buy back all shares of PLUS Expressways Bhd that it does not already own, and take over its existing asset-backed liabilities for the approximate amount of RM15 billion. This amount and more would be recovered from motorists using the North-South Highway by maintaining the existing toll rates for six years. Should PLUS be acquired this year, by 2016, toll collection would no longer be required on PLUS-owned highways

(Source)

Tony Pua of DAP made interesting points on the buy back of the highway concessionaires but nothing concrete has been put in place in this aspect (was it because it came from the opposition and not from the ruling party?)

This is why we are suspicious of the Government when it comes to toll rates for the highway. We are even more suspicious when the Government is saying that there will not be any increase in toll rate for the next 5 years. We are suspicious because what is being said is far from reality.

And just when we thought we have seen the worse, came along Warisan Merdeka

Danger along Highway


(Seeing dead body on the road was not something I had in mind for my weekend entertainment. Image source: http://thezeph.wordpress.com)

I talked about it almost 2 years ago

And it finally happened last week as I was driving along LDP on a Saturday afternoon after a meeting with a friend and realised that there was heavy traffic jam. From afar, we can see the fast lane was blocked and the traffic moved from 3 lanes to 2 lanes. A police car was parked on the fast lane.

We saw couple of men behind the police car, measuring something. As we were crawled along, we saw a pair of legs on the ground in front of the police car. We drove further and saw a young man – looked like an Indonesian – on the ground with a bloody face and was not moving at all. He was dead. Along both sides of the highway, there was a huge crowd of Indonesians standing and watching the dead body. Perhaps it was their family member; perhaps it was their friend or working colleague.

But it was too late – the young man was dead and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

And yet, this is unlikely to be end of the story as I realised later – another idiot was waiting at the middle to cross the busy highway (he had managed cross one part of the highway and got stuck in the middle, waiting to cross the other part).

In the meantime, Malay Mail reports this:-

A pair of lovers was killed when the car they were travelling in crashed into a road divider at Km21.7 Kesas Expressway at 5.30am today. Selangor traffic and public order chief Supt Che Hussin Omar said Ng Kai Seng and girlfriend Wong Pao Wen, both 19, died of head injuries at the scene.

“They were returning home to Bukit Tinggi from Kuala Lumpur in a Toyota Vios when the car skidded, spun and crashed into the road divider.”The impact sent them crashing onto the road. The car landed about 200 metres away from the spot it crashed into a road divider at Km21.7.”

Che Hussin said initial investigation showed that the driver was speeding above the permitted speed limit.

Their remains were sent to Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital for a post-mortem. Police also took blood samples to test the alcohol level

Speeding over the permitted speed limit is one thing (the speed limit is lower than speed limit for North South Highway) but has the problems facing the highway itself been rectified?

In 2007, I wrote this:-

For anyone who uses the Kesas, look closely at the divider – it goes up and down. It is the same case on the road. You are virtually driving up a small slope, then down and sometimes the “up and down” is so sudden that you are bouncing through the air.

There is no warning at all for motorist to slow down or to watch out for sudden ups and downs other than the sporadic speed limit signboard. It is no wonder that when it rains heavily, the volume of water stagnant on the road is also heavy.

So, in other words, you can’t drive that fast in Kesas

We are not really sure whether Ng Kai Seng been speeding but if you think about it, driving at 81 km/h (Kesas has a speed limit of 80 km/h) is nothing too great compared to driving at 110 km/h along the North South Highway. But road conditions (and perhaps the weather) have been bad; it does not really need Ng Kai Seng to be flying in his Vios to get in serious trouble.

And from personal experience, Kesas can be very tricky at higher speed but here is sickening part to the whole affair – “driving above the speed limit” aside of course, we are paying through our noses for the toll for such a lousy and poorly constructed highway.

Emergency in Litrak


Just wondering how our highway concessionaires are prepared for emergencies on the tolled highways. I got a nasty sample on how Litrak (the concessioner for LDP) handles it.

Let me relate the story.

It was just 9 in the evening as I made myself to the Sunway toll booth – to my surprise, it was jam packed and so was the lanes towards Puchong. In fact, it was so jammed that I thought Litrak would have extended their contra traffic for just another couple of hours but that it did not happen. So, I crawled along the traffic and somehow managed to reach the overhead lane leading towards Puchong Jaya.

From afar, I heard a siren. Immediately I slowed down (actually there was nothing much to slow down, the traffic was already crawling), put my indicators and make the necessary space for the siren walling vehicle to pass over. It was a fire engine and despite the traffic jam, it was a heartening to note that most of the drivers moved over and made space for the fire engine to pass. But then, what happened next caught me (and I sure many drivers) by surprise.

Just behind the fire engine, an equally speeding, huge Litrak truck passes by, trying to zip in and out of the traffic jam as if it was trying to mate with the fire engine. That truck almost hit my car in its attempt to keep up with the speeding fire engine. Thankfully we managed to move our cars in time for this giant “bully” to pass us without hitting us.

I am pretty sure that there would have been near-misses as this Litrak truck cutting in and out of traffic. There was no siren, no warning whatsoever to tell the drivers that there is another vehicle rushing right behind the fire engine.

Soon, the traffic got better and soon that truck disappeared up in front (the fire engine have long gone disappeared). That got me wondering – just how the highway concessionaires prepared for emergencies on their highway – especially those highways that cuts through major cities and towns and notorious for mind boggling traffic jam. LDP is one where at peak hours, the traffic is at standstill and no one likes any other drivers cutting in and out of traffic dangerously.

(The culprit on the fast lane – just look at the size – hardly the vehicle to zip in and zip out of traffic during peak hours)

If Litrak’s objective of deploying the huge truck is to provide traffic management around the emergency area (assuming accident on the highway) then a huge truck is not the right vehicle to be deployed especially during peak hours. Litrak should keep some fast, well equipped motorbikes on standby at strategic places for immediate deployment.

If the objective is to provide additional items or water for the fire engine, then one must remember that the fire engine itself is holding sufficient water for a first attack on fire. The Litrak truck can come in later for replenishment. Alternatively, have some of these trucks on standby at strategic places and accident prone areas so that help can be given without much delay.

The importance of secondary support given to emergency vehicles should not be disregarded lightly because it can mean a matter of life or death but sufficient notice (by means of blaring siren or bright colour) must be given to the highway users so that 1. Other road users are aware of the vehicle and 2. Right of way can be given without any delays.

Ploughing a white, no siren whatsoever heavy truck in the middle of traffic jam is not the way.

Read Also

Emergency in Klang

Danger Along LDP

Morning Accident


(Not the same car, not the same road but by the time, the car stopped, the damage to the car was very similar. Image source: http://www.newscientist.com)

It happened in slow motion…

Taking a corner on LDP near Bandar Puteri – the road was wet – I was in the middle lane – saw a maniac driving up fast on the left – showing off his new sports car – any Tom, Dick & Harry will know the most left lane has the most tightest corner.

The tires did not stick, lost the gripe – the car swayed several times – finally hit the concrete barriers at about 80 km/h – debris flying – saw a huge chunk lying on my path, managed avoided it – almost hit another car but managed to slow down – managed to drive away without a scratch

The idiot who drive himself up to the concrete barriers deserved it – it almost hit several cars just because he was thinking he was too good and continued speeding even though the road was wet.

I was lucky to miss it but I was not at ease – I worried whether I had picked up any debris and got myself a punctured tires. I checked my car several times but so far things are looking good. And I hope the driver who hit the barriers today is in coma with severe injuries – one less maniac on the road.

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“Living” in Office


(Just another day before a long weekend break from Klang Valley. One for the long weekend)

(Parking lot or traffic jam? Picture source: http://www.saasta.fi)

I just realise that I am going to work earlier and coming back later than the time when I first started with this job.

My working hours are usually between 9 am to 6 pm – “usually” because if we are working on projects, then working hours will be from 12 am to next day 12 am. So as I was saying, work starts at 9 am. When I started with this job, I used to leave the house at about 7.30 am – take about 30 minutes to reach the office. Back then, work started at 8.30 am, so I had about 30 minutes for breakfast and read the newspapers. When the work finish at 5.30 pm back then, I would leave about 6 pm and within 45 minutes, I am back home. This is about 4 years ago.

These days, I leave the house at 6 am (even though work starts at 9 am) and it takes me about the same 30 minutes to reach the office. That is if I could leave the house anytime before 6.30 am. If after 6.30 am, I am stuck with traffic jam and it takes me more than an hour to reach the office – that too after wasting petrol and time on the road and fight with queue jumpers. In the evenings, I leave the office at 8 pm at night – a far cry from the 6 pm those days. Even at 8 pm, I am reaching the house after a long crawl in Puchong. If I leave earlier, then I will be stuck at Sunway toll plaza – the traffic there is almost not moving.

At 8 pm, it still takes me about 45 minutes but that is because I use the “fastest” lane available and driving faster than the average speed. Basically I am spending extra 4 hours in the office than usual these days due to traffic jams. This is why; I am usually holed up in the house on Saturdays and Sundays. I try not to “touch” the car on these 2 days. I also try to get as much sleep possible for the next week days.

So, on the outset, I may look like a workaholic to my colleagues – for I am among the firsts to be in and a few lasts to be out. It is not right all the time – I still work the same 8 hours of work as the rest of the “come in at 9 am, leave at 6 pm” colleagues but I add extra 4 hours due to the traffic jams.

And the government said that it has done a lot to improve the quality of life for Malaysians, sigh. Take away the toll booths and spend more on efficient & cheap public transport and things will get better.

Happy holidays!