This article was originally published on The Jakarta Post.

As road users, we may have at times put ourselves at very high risk. Road fatalities and injuries, which have become severe problems over the last decades, continue to haunt road users, especially pedestrians.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.25 million people die on roads every year, mostly occurring in developing countries, becoming the ninth leading cause of death. If no action is taken, the WHO predicts that road traffic fatalities will become the seventh leading cause of death by 2030.

Traffic fatalities and injuries have cost Indonesia 2.9 percent of its total gross domestic product (GDP), as estimated by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Hence traffic safety, which has not received much attention to date, must be prioritized in the planning and evaluation of transportation-related projects.

An EMBARQ World Resource Institute (WRI) issue brief, entitled “Saving Lives with Sustainable Transport”, indicated motorization use as a strong predictor of traffic crashes, a proxy of traffic safety. The study, which examined cities around the world, suggested that states or cities with high vehicle kilometers traveled per capita experienced higher traffic fatalities rates. Further, it revealed that the share of public transportation influenced traffic fatalities — the greater the use of public transportation, the lower fatalities would be.

Similar to this, the EMBARQ WRI data in 2011 also indicated that caroriented cities like Jakarta and Atlanta had fatality rates of 6.4 and 9.7 per 100,000 inhabitants respectively, higher than a transit-oriented city such as Tokyo with a fatality rate of 1.3 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Most Indonesian cities are experiencing a tremendous increase in motorization, predominantly private vehicle, hence presenting challenges in traffic safety. The share of commuters using motorcycles in Jakarta, for instance, increased dramatically by 20 percent just within eight years, according to the study done by the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister and Japan International Cooperation Agency. So, what actions should be taken to reduce private vehicle use and road fatalities?

First, the share of public transportation must be increased. Several Indonesian cities have made some improvement on public transportation to encourage its residents to use public transportation.

However, the principles of sustainability, meaning the continuation of public transportation services, have not yet been applied to this new system. This can be seen from the lack of commercial companies managing networks and the lack of incentives available to increase revenue, which can lead to a decreasing quality of public transportation. In addition, fragmented route networks that do not accommodate to the public’s travel needs makes it hard for commuters to reach their destination.

Consequently, public transportation is still being marginalized, making cars and motorcycles popular amongst the majority of commuters. In fact, motorcycles themselves provide a reverse impact in terms of safety. In Bandung, motorcycles represent 62 percent of the transportation mode share of the city and contributes to 72 percent of road crashes, making motorcycle users the most vulnerable road users.

Increasing the share of public transportation and making public transportation the main choice is a key goal in reducing traffic fatalities.

How Indonesian cities can enable this shift from private motorized vehicle to public transportation is a huge undertaking. One thing that can be done to encourage the public to shift from private vehicles to public transportation is by establishing integrated public transportation improvements.

For instance, well-connected public transportation routes that allow easy transfers and having good pedestrian sidewalks to easily access bus stop needs to be developed.

As for the institutional structure, a commercial company that manages the network and focuses on quality improvement should be established. In parallel, public transportation improvement needs to be synchronized with restrictions on private vehicle use such as by increasing parking fees and restricting parking space, especially in the city center. A more radical solution is to promote a carbon tax for private vehicles.

Second, public transportation should be coupled with infrastructure elements that ensures public safety, such as bus priority lanes, pedestrian crossings and improved intersection geometry.

The Saving Lives with Sustainable Transport issue brief highlighted that in developing countries, public transportation alone would not be able to deliver maximum impact on traffic safety; safer infrastructure elements also needed to be applied.

Latin America is as an example where a bus rapid transit (BRT) system has significant benefitted public safety from a combination of improved street geometry and signalization, dedicated bus lanes, and operator consolidation.

In Indonesia, unfortunately, safety design elements are still missing in its improved public transportation system, which could exacerbate the number of fatalities and injuries.

Hence, safer public transportation infrastructure integrated with safer pedestrian and cycling infrastructure design, consolidation among operators that can eliminate market competition, trainings for drivers, and vehicle maintenance have to be provided.

We cannot tolerate both losing lives and depriving our GDP due to traffic fatalities and serious injuries anymore. Given the strong relationship between public transportation and traffic safety, there is a need to develop an integrated planning approach between public transportation improvement and traffic safety aspects. Public transportation improvement and traffic safety should be highlighted in policy agenda among decision makers to get a common objective to drastically reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.