By KEVIN TAN
IMAGINE travelling 90km twice a day, or spending four to five hours on the road every day, just to get to work or school.
It might sound absolutely crazy, but for a variety of reasons – mainly increasing property prices and terrible traffic – some young Malaysians are doing just that, wasting hours and hours every day just getting to class or work.
The long road
Daphne Cheah, 27, who lived in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, used to travel 90km all the way to Sepang to work everyday. “I used to drive to work everyday for about a year and a half before I decided to move to Nilai, Negeri Sembilan about two years ago, which is about 17km away from Sepang, to make my life a bit easier.”
But before that, Cheah was travelling 180km a day, and it wasn’t just because of the distance. It was also because of traffic. “It was super, super stressful. In every sense of the word.”
The constant travelling left Cheah physically tired. “I had to wake up extra early to battle the traffic jams, getting out of Setapak especially. It didn’t matter which way you took, or which highway you tried. It would take about an hour to get into the highways, and then another hour just to get to the office,” said Cheah, who works as a media relations senior executive.
On average, she would spend about five hours a day just on her commute to work and back. “You can imagine how stressful it is physically. I waste four to six hours of my life every single day, just on driving and battling traffic.”
After going through that for about a year and a half, Cheah decided enough was enough, and packed up and moved to Nilai, two state borders away.
It is a familiar story for many young Malaysians living in and around the Klang Valley, whether they are students or working young adults.
Similar to Cheah, Kenneth Ng, 22, also experienced having to spend long hours travelling while he was going through his internship in Petaling Jaya.
Living in Sungai Long, Ng was forced to wake up early in the morning to avoid traffic. It took him about 90 minutes to reach his workplace, and another two hours to get home.
So why exactly do people like Cheah and Ng put up with their situations?
Ng has now graduated with a degree in international business, but he has no plans to move closer to the city when he starts work.
“I would prefer to live with my family, because I’ll be able to save on accommodation and food. My family decided to buy a place here in Sungai Long because the property prices are lower.
“And it’s a good place to stay as it’s quite developed. There are schools and universities here, and you can find pretty much all the things you need,” said Ng.
Where the heart is
While some have no choice but to go through long commutes every day, others like journalism student Muhd Afiff willingly go through it in order to continue living with their families.
Muhd Afiff travels every day from his home in Seremban to his university in KL, relying solely on public transport. And he does it not just because he gets to save money on renting a room – it’s also because he wants to spend more time with his mother, and to help her with work around the house.
He even has a part-time job in Seremban to help bring in some extra income for his family. In any case, he strives to make the most out of the situation every day.
“Travelling from KL to Seremban is about 70km, but it’s not a problem for me. The bus ride is about two hours and that’s the time I usually use to rest and sleep in the bus,” he said with a laugh. “It’s not as tiring because I don’t drive. I just sit in the bus and chill.”
Recent graduate Daniel Dinesh used to spend even more time on his commute to class than Afiff, and he used to drive there every day.
When he was studying in Subang Jaya, Selangor, Daniel had to travel more than three hours just to get to his destination, as he lives in Banting, Selangor.
“It is tiring and stressful! Spending more than three hours on the road alone every day isn’t a very pleasant thing to do. The only company you’ve got is your radio, which doesn’t really do a good job at keeping you awake unless the stereos are at maximum volume,” he joked.
After a year, Daniel eventually decided to rent an apartment close to his campus in Subang Jaya. Although it is much more convenient, he said: “Nothing beats staying at home, you just can’t get the same feeling by renting an apartment somewhere. Home is where the heart is.”
He also mentioned that quite a few of his friends are doing the same as well. “I have friends who travel from Seremban or Ipoh to KL daily. It’s becoming very common and I would probably point the finger at increasing housing costs.”
Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to enjoy their commutes as much as Afiff. Cheah, for instance, found that she was spending way too much on petrol, and the time wasted on the road was affecting her productivity.
“Battling traffic early in the morning puts you in a different mood when you get in to work, and doing the same every night after work. It leaves you with no time to do anything else after that – no meeting with friends, no time to pick up groceries or whatever you might need,” she said.
Cheah used to pay around RM1,300 a month just for petrol, toll, parking and car maintenance.
“I used to service my car nearly every month because I drive about 200km a day, making it 1,000km a week not including weekends. So that’s about 4,000-4,500km a month!” she said.
The situation has improved for Cheah after moving closer to her workplace, but she’s still required to travel to KL occasionally. “Although I have moved, my current house is more like a rest stop as I am mostly back in Setapak if there are meetings or events in KL related to work, and I still end up driving from Setapak to Sepang on weekdays,” she said.
Real estate brokerage CEO Joshua Wong believes that property prices in the Klang Valley are slowing forcing young adults to move further away, leaving them no choice but to deal with the long commute.
“For young people, affordability is a very important issue. When we start working, chances are we will not have that financial muscle to put in a huge capital or afford a high bank instalment,” he said.
“However, there are also people who choose to live further away simply to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city, and to have a place with a bigger land area.”
To give an idea of the difference in property prices, Wong said that a landed house in KL would probably cost over RM1,000,000. A similar property in areas like Seremban, Klang or Rawang, however, would probably be half of that.
Vice President of the National House Buyers Association, Datuk Goh Seng Toh advises young people not to be too fussy when buying their first house.
“It doesn’t matter even if it is a bit far from the city centre. Not everybody who just entered the job market can afford to buy an ideal house.
“Buy one as soon as you can afford one, so that you lock-in or hedge your funds. With your first house under your sleeves, you can always upgrade at a later date when your financial status improves,” he said.