Public response to Penang transport masterplan

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, wish to issue the following statement in response to the Penang Transport Master Plan.

We support the idea of a transport masterplan and the need to prioritise public transport over the present private car-centred transport system. We wish to commend the Penang State Government for this pro-active move. However there are very fundamental and critical issues that need to be addressed before the current proposals by SRS are acceptable.

1. Do our population projections warrant such a massive scheme at such tremendous costs, currently estimated at RM40bn? SRS projects 2.45m people by 2030 while the Malaysian Statistics Department projects 1.94m by 2040. Penang currently has negative population growth and the only way SRS’s projected figures can be achieved is if there is a massive net in-migration of over 50,000 people yearly – something that is unrealistic.

2. Following from the above, the financial viability of a public transport system is dependent on ridership and usage and its cost structure; otherwise, it ends up as a bleeding white elephant waiting to be bailed out by the people of Penang. Will our projected ridership be able to support such costly projects as the LRT and monorail, which are four to six times more expensive than new generation tram systems, which can equal the carrying capacity of LRT.

3. The success of a public transport system also hinges on its level of accessibility, connectivity and integration. As far as possible, there should a single integrated system. Why does SRS propose four different systems – LRT, monorail, tram and bus rapid transit – which will be difficult and more costly to coordinate, maintain & upgrade? Seamless connectivity will be difficult to achieve and KL’s failures should not be repeated.

4. The monorail is eminently unsuitable for the Penang landscape, being elevated, unsightly and intrusive. Even the present chief minister of Penang rejected the monorail system in 2013 as being unsuitable for the city. Transport experts tell us it is used for short sectors at theme parks and is hardly used anywhere in the world for public transportation. Furthermore, it is unsafe. If a breakdown or fire occurs midway, there is no safe route for passengers to escape. Sydney has dismantled its monorail, and Malacca’s monorail is non-functional and a visual and economic blight on its city. Do we need to go down this treacherous route?

5. Why is the tram system limited to the World Heritage Site? Modern generation trams are used in many cities. These modern trams are more manoeuverable, flexible and much less costly to build and operate. Trams require only an 11m turning radius compared to the LRT’s 135m, hence reducing the extent of land acquisition required if an LRT system is built. Their carrying capacity also matches LRT. A combination of a single integrated network of modern trams with BRT can adequately cater to both the island and the mainland’s needs.

6. The most worrying concern is that the PTMP lacks vision. It is touted as a plan for Penang for the next 50 years. Yet it is trapped in 20th century technology and approach in planning. It proposes obsolescent solutions to Penang’s transport problems, ignoring the latest developments in mass transit planning around the world. It neither anticipates nor plans for future sustainability and is still very car-centric. It will condemn the people of Penang to a system that does not resolve the state’s transportation woes and for a very high and unjustifiable cost.

7. Progressive cities throughout the world are now taking steps to reduce rather than cater to private vehicles entering into cities, greening and removing highways, and aiming to achieve zero carbon emissions. Yet, priority is given in the PTMP to building more roads and tunnels to cater to private vehicles. The purpose of building public transport is to reduce, not encourage, private vehicle usage. Even the new mayor of a car-centric city like Houston, Slyvester Turner, recently acknowledged that widening one of the city’s main highways to 26 lanes at a cost of RM10bn (US$2.6bn) only increased traffic and made congestion worse! Penang, which proudly declares it wants to lead, appears to demonstrate a total ignorance of current world concerns and trends.

8. The Halcrow Transport Master Plan recommended many cost-effective and short-term measures for reducing traffic that included better parking policies, city cycling, mobility improvement, high-occupancy-vehicle lanes, sharing vehicles etc. since 2012. Much time has been lost and this “better, faster, cheaper” strategy does not seem to be a focus of the PTMP.

9. For a government committed to CAT (competence, accountability and transparency), there is a lack of clarity with regard to the financing of the entire scheme. What are the people of Penang being committed to? How will payment via reclamation work? Will SRS implement roads first and public transport last? What happens if we run out of funds after the initial stages? Will the public be subjected to unaffordable fares, thereby making them return to their cars? No answers are provided in the PTMP.

For all these reasons, the people of Penang should not be rushed into signing this important agreement. More transparency, accountability and genuine engagement with the public are needed.

Signatories

  1. Penang Forum
  2. Penang Heritage Trust
  3. Aliran
  4. Sahabat Alam Malaysia
  5. Consumers Association of Penang (CAP)
  6. Malaysian Nature Society
  7. Citizens for Public Transport Coalition (Cepat)
  8. Friends of Botanical Garden
  9. Pesticide Action Network Asia & Pacific
  10. Tanjong Bunga Residents Association
  11. Women’s Centre for Change
  12. Suara Rakat Malaysia (Suaram)
  13. PBTUSM Alumni Northern region
  14. Mama Bersih
  15. Ombak Arts Studio
  16. Persatuan Pendidikan Seni Pulau Pinang (Arts-Ed)

25 April 2016

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