VIEWS for and against the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) are now well documented after the publication of several articles by writers including Roger Teoh, Dr Lim Mah Hui and Joshua Woo. But as a Penangite, I am obliged to chip in my two sen worth in response to the invitation for more feedback on the PTMP by Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow.
Woo says the PTMP’s financial structure is “self-financing” by selling reclaimed state land (a land swap business model) and there would be no need to ask for federal funding to avoid adding to the RM1 trillion debt of our country. But I beg to differ.
The land swap business model was first used more than 100 years ago by the Americans to build railway tracks. However, it was abandoned after it was exploited by developers who disappeared after the land was developed and properties sold.
Federal funding would come from Malaysian taxpayers, and Penangites are among them. The advantage is clear; all the infrastructures can be openly and fairly tendered with the same set of specifications, terms and conditions.
Also, upon completion, the developer has to provide a guarantee for a fixed term and the final payment can be released to the developer upon maturity of the guarantee.
The state government is only the legal custodian of all Penang state land whereas Penangites are the rightful owners. In other words, the PTMP would be 100% financed by Penangites.
Politicians should not forget that Penangites trusted and voted in the Pakatan Harapan politicians to form the present government. Therefore, they have the right and privilege to demand for a second opinion from a reputable and independent international consultant without interference from any interested parties, including politicians.
For the sake of true transparency and accountability, the Penang state government should declassify all the tender procedures and awards, and details of the consultant’s PTMP report (including the size, method of data collection and modelling techniques) to Penangites, otherwise the transparency and accountability pledge would be an illusion. The state government owes this to Penangites. It would also be an opportunity for our new CM and his team to further improve the principles of CAT, a legacy left by his predecessor, the present Finance Minister.
Transport planning is a science and not a simple mix-and-match puzzle. Obsession for building roads and tunnels, ignoring the environmental impact, toxic polluted air that kills people and climate change is proof that some politicians are still living in the 50s and 60s when building roads was the only solution to connect people.
Transport planning techniques have improved by leaps and bounds since then, and extensive research and data collection over the years have given planners a better understanding of the best options to integrate communities and to connect people with smarter solutions. The beauty of science is its reliance on empirical evidence rather than conjured assumptions and biased data.
One of the most fundamental aspects in transport planning is understanding the manner in which homes and workplaces are distributed across a city and its spatial structure.
Therefore, it is important for the state government to display not just the conclusion of the report but also the size and method of the data collection, forecasting techniques and models used in the PTMP report, preferably online. It should not underestimate the intelligence and knowledge of Penangites.
Twenty-first century transport planners in developed countries, for example Britain, are now focusing on building bicycle highways and narrowing roads (for example, narrowing and considering banning taxis plying Oxford Street) and reducing toxic polluted air. Other forward-looking cities around the world have adopted policies that favour public transport, cycling and walking over private cars.
It is noteworthy that air pollution kills over 40,000 people prematurely in Britain every year, according to a report by the Royal College of Physicians. Is the government only willing to wake up when Penangites are killed by air pollution? Aren’t landslides and floods the result of over-development in Penang?
The state government has undermined, overlooked and neglected for years the role and importance of buses, which incur low maintenance cost, allow affordable fares and are best suited to Penang. Unfortunately, our buses are a monopolised transport tool, poorly and inefficiently managed and thus restricted to the captive market.
The successful management of bus services would be a showcase of Penang’s innovation and creativity, which is more challenging and harder to achieve than simply building LRT, highways and tunnels. The notion that the LRT is superior over buses is false, and many people are not aware that in London with its extensive underground network, the number of people using buses is almost twice those taking the Underground.
While Woo claims that the Penang Forum used questionable data for population forecasting/projection, he was unable to pinpoint the details and reasons.
However, Teoh, in his article “More spin to prop up the PTMP” published online on June 24, showed that the three islands would have a density 27% higher than in Hong Kong. You don’t need a rocket scientist to understand that this is a far-fetched projection of population on these islands. Weeks have passed since this article was published and yet there is no response from Woo or the state government.
Such an impertinent and gratuitous conclusion shocked me, and I began to doubt the accuracy of the PTMP report, deeming it misleading at best, dangerous at worst.
The current PTMP is a charade rather than a serious and independent professional deliberative process. Improvement in public transport and efficient traffic management to reduce congestion are not in the equation at all. More roads induce more cars, resulting in serious congestion and air pollution.
In view of the shocking conclusion and also the rights and privileges of Penangites, it is ineluctable for the Penang Forum, NGOs and other concerned groups to demand that the current PTMP be reviewed by a reputable and independent international consultant, completely free of interference from any parties, to fulfil the aspirations of Penangites. We want a professional, truthful and evidence-based PTMP that will withstand scrutiny and microscopic dirt scrubbing. With this, whoever leads the next government would have a positive and robust transport policy for the betterment of Penangites in terms of liveability and economic sense.
Bear in mind that there were many unanswered questions and also the investigation by the MACC published in various newspapers before the May 9 general election.
I wish to commend Teoh, a postgraduate student at Imperial College London (a premium university in engineering), for his passion and knowledge of transport studies for contributing several useful articles on the PTMP. It would be beneficial to Penangites if he continues to write on the matter because he has access to all the latest transport journals and renowned transport studies professors for advice.