THE idea of building a light rail transit (LRT) or monorail in Penang dates back decades. For more than 10 years, the Penang state government repeatedly asked the federal government to build public transit lines here.
In 2007 when Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was prime minister, Putrajaya promised that a monorail system would be built in Penang before the 2008 general election. This was followed by another pledge in 2013 by then prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who said a monorail would be constructed in Penang if Barisan National retook the state in the 2013 general election.
Barisan’s inability to win back the state combined with its reluctance as the federal government to commit to any development in Penang cost us 10 precious years of public transport development.
Limited funds and financing options eventually led the state government to develop the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), a holistic measure designed not only to fire-fight the worsening traffic congestion but also to provide alternative transport options.
It is extremely idealistic, perhaps even naive, to think that building more public transport alternatives alone would solve our deep-rooted reliance on cars. Our preference for cars arose from a lack of choice. Penangites will need time to adapt to the combination of walking and public transport to get to where we want after being so used to driving right up to the front door of our destination.
More than just a transition of habit, another crucial factor that should be looked at is when the solution can be properly implemented. All circumstances and other factors aside, let’s assume that construction of Penang’s LRT begins this year. The earliest that Penangites would get to enjoy the service would be 2025, which is seven years from now!
If we factor in another year to reduce our reliance on cars, we’re looking at nearly another decade before there is any improvement in our traffic congestion. Are the dissenters seriously asking Penangites to endure eight more years of traffic congestion?
This very question alone is the reason why the Penang Transport Master Plan contains both the construction of strategic bypasses and public transport. There must be both short-term and long-term solutions to alleviating traffic congestion.
Is it realistic to demand that no new highway, and badly-needed strategic bypasses for that matter, be built even though facts show that the problem is worsening even as we argue?
As for putting more buses on the roads, if you look back to a couple of decades ago, buses were an unreliable form of public transport primarily because they were never on time.
Rapid buses were a breath of fresh air because they had fixed schedules and adhered strictly to them.
Now, when traffic congestion is on track to become even worse, dissenters are suggesting we put hundreds more buses on our roads to encourage the public to take up public transport.
This means introducing more vehicles on the road, leading to even more congested traffic conditions. In such cases, one may as well forget the strict timetable that the public expects the bus operator to uphold.
Statistics and surveys done during the preliminary stage of the PTMP back in 2012 showed that only 3% of Penangites chose public transport. Simply increasing the number of buses will not mean that the adoption rate of the public will increase.
Having strategic bypasses to immediately relieve the most congested expressways on the island and surrounding roads is the only viable option before it gets even worse.
As a councillor with the Penang Island City Council who actively participates in the making of state policies, I can assure everyone that Penang is, and always will be, a green state.
The cleanliness and eco health of our beloved state will always be at the heart of our policies.
However, quoting Theodore Roosevelt (26th President of the United States): “Keep your eyes on the stars, but keep your feet on the ground”, let’s be practical, rational and use common sense when handling any problem.
Penang Island City Council (MBPP)
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