Thumbs up for Penang transport master plan

  • Travel
  • Friday, 17 Jun 2016

After spending time in Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and the Klang Valley, insurance agent Shahnon Ooi, 28, looks forward to the prospect of a transport master plan on Penang Island. Photo: The Star/ ZHAFARAN NASIB

This is one of those stories that people born between 1980 and 1999 might hate but cannot fight the compulsion to keep on reading. It is about them, the Generation Y aka the millennials.

Born between the era of humongous mobile phones and the incorporation of Google (1998), this gang blinked their way into adulthood surrounded by breakthroughs in consumer technologies.

Sociologists in the University of Sydney discovered last year that Gen Y takes no pride in this distinction.

Type “Generation Y are” in Google and the search engine suggests “lazy”, “idiots” and “unhappy” to finish your query. And these are the milder labels. San Diego University scientists declared in 2014 that they may be more narcissistic than any other generation group.

Gen Y live in debt. Gen Y are clueless. Gen Y are in a dilemma. Gen Y are cheap. Prognostications that pound the younglings abound, and according to Pricewaterhouse-Coopers’ (PWC) 2014 survey on working Malaysian millennials, the stereotyping includes “the compulsive need to change jobs and employers frequently, the expectation that organisations need to impress them instead of the other way around, and an attitude that sometimes smirks of entitlement”.

Rant and rave as Gen X and Baby Boomers want, however, these 20-30-somethings are the heirs of the future, which brings up a point in Penang’s future that affects them: the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

By 2023, the first phase of Penang’s first light rail transit – the Bayan Lepas LRT – is targeted to be operational and its final phase ready by 2031. The total implementation of PTMP, covering LRT, monorails, tram, bus rapid transits, catamarans, e-bus, highways and junction improvements, are plotted until 2065.

The Bayan Lepas LRT will be about 30km long from Komtar to the south of the island. It will have a total of 27 stations with the alignment passing through the densest southeastern areas, including the free industrial zone and the airport.

Another decade or so after that, more monorails are planned from Tanjung Tokong and Air Itam to Komtar and even an LRT line that will run over the sea and connect the island and the mainland.

Way before then, the current 40-50-something Gen Xs will have retired and Baby Boomers will all but fade into history. Going by the timeline, the sole beneficiaries of PTMP are primarily the Gen Y and their progeny.

The environmental pluses that an efficient public transport system brings along seems to sit well with them. In the PWC survey on them, a whopping 86% want to work in a place that values environmental friendliness and such like, and 77% said they would consider resigning if their employers cast a blind eye on issues of sustainability and climate change.

“It would be great to have an LRT on the island,” chirped Great Eastern insurance agent Shahnon Ooi, 28, proudly adding that she is a penang kia (Hokkien for Penang child).

After spending time in Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and the Klang Valley, insurance agent Shahnon Ooi, 28, looks forward to the prospect of a transport master plan on Penang Island. Photo: The Star/ ZHAFARAN NASIB
After spending time in Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and the Klang Valley, insurance agent Shahnon Ooi, 28, looks forward to the prospect of a transport master plan on Penang Island. Photo: The Star/Zhafaran Nasib

Ooi speaks from experience. She spent three months in Taiwan as a university exchange student, riding a full-frame bicycle from her guesthouse every day to catch a bus that has racks for her to hang up her bike inside. “I was issued a bike as soon as I arrived,” she recalled.

She visited Singapore several times, making full use of the republic’s sprawling network of mass rail transit lines. Last year, she spent 10 days in Japan, hopping about in bullet trains and the Tokyo subways to her heart’s content.

She also spent eight years in Universiti Putra Malaysia to get her degree in biology and then as a research assistant till she earned her master’s degree in animal physiology and had regularly used KTM Komuter.

After coming home and changing careers, however, Ooi finds herself verily shackled to her car’s steering wheel.

“I am in my car a lot now! When I move around to serve my clients’ insurance needs, I sometimes think about the trains in Japan. They are so efficient.”

The yearly reported average delay of Japanese bullet trains is about 30 seconds. On the rare occasions when a train is late by five minutes or more, the conductors will bow their apologies to everyone on board, train car by train car, and issue delay certificates to every passenger so that they will not need to explain their lateness at wherever it is they are heading to.

“All developed places have trains. Even the Klang Valley. Penang is small but if it has a good train network, moving about will be so easy and cheap,” she said.

Another Gen Y on the other end of the spectrum is bicycle commuter Loke See Mun, 25. She did the math and did not want the burden of a car loan after joining the working society as an assistant corporate secretary, armed with a degree in business administration. Penang has an entrenched bicycle commuting culture, so she easily embraced the world’s cheapest and greenest mode of transport.

“I have been bike commuting in Penang for nearly three years and I want everyone to know it is safe, fun and you stay in shape without needing a gym. Penang is so small. Most people live less than 10km from their workplaces and a distance like that takes only about 30 minutes to cycle.

“I am for the Bayan Lepas LRT, but only if they let me bring my bike into the train. If I combine my bike with train rides, I will have no use for a car in Penang unless I need to carry something large,” she said.

Loke’s abstinence from fossil fuel, however, is not shared by her peers. Deloitte’s 2014 survey on Gen Y and cars covering 19 countries found that 75% of them plan on getting a car within five years. This finding matches current stats from the Road Transport Department and the Automobile Association of Malaysia.

Penang has an average of 1.4 cars and motorcycles per person based on Penang’s population in 2013. The vehicle registration growth rate here is 7% based on JPJ’s statistics, while the population growth rate is only 2%.

So to meet the growth rate until such time that the upgraded public transport system attains 40% modal share (percentage of trips via public transport), a crucial component of the PTMP being planned is a highway from Gurney Drive till the 2nd Bridge of the island passing through Paya Terubong called the Pan Island Link 1.

George Town will be a lot more relaxing with this 20km combination of elevated roads and tunnels running along the foothills because motorists from the north going to the airport will not need to cut through the city anymore.

So all this – costing over RM27bil – is for a social strata that has also been dubbed Generation Me or the Boomerang Generation (because they tend to swing back to live with their parents after facing too many financial difficulties) that is said to focus more on extrinsic values, are pampered, a little delusional and cannot live without their smartphones.

Being reminded of these supposed Gen Y traits got a huff from Loke during the interview.

“If only my seniors can remember that when they were young, they were called brash and fickle, too. My grandparents complain that my parents never listened to good advice when they were kids. Our generation may depend more on technology than our parents did but it doesn’t mean we are weaker or lousier. I think the future will be more challenging for us than it had been for the older generation because technology makes life faster. So it’s good to have something like the PTMP for the future,” said Loke.

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