Penang Forum opposes road-based tunnel, serious reservations about highway-building spree

The Penang Forum Steering Committee opposes the proposed road-based undersea tunnel and the state government’s emphasis on highway construction over improvements in public transport.

(The tunnel would be the fourth cross-channel link, after the ferries and the first and second Penang bridges.)

There are just too many unanswered questions (see the list below) that throw the viability of this mega project into doubt.

While it is true that public transport comes under the jurisdiction of the federal government, we feel that ‘do-the-wrong-thing’ approach (promoting dependency on private motor vehicles over the long term) is worse than the ‘do-nothing’ approach.

A more sensible and visionary approach would be to come up with a comprehensive plan for sustainable transport while educating the public and pressuring the federal government to realise that change.

It is true that the federal government now has overbearing jurisdiction over public transport but that may not be the case if there is a change of government in the coming general election or the one after that. Jurisdiction over public transport would then be decentralised.

In the meantime, the state government should lay the ground work for integrated sustainable public sustainable transport in the state. The state government can do the following now:

  • Kick off a campaign to promote the widespread use of public transport among ordinary commuters. State government leaders could show leadership by example by taking the bus or cycling to work wherever possible.
  • Prevent illegal parking (by clamping) to decongest key routes so that bus lanes can be created along certain stretches. A trial run could be carried out at Burma Road, for instance. These bus lanes may also be used by taxis, emergency vehicles and multi-occupancy vehicles.
  • Buy RapidPenang season tickets in bulk and distribute them to target groups such as school children, working adults and senior citizens. Alternatively, the state government could provide full or partial reimbursements to those who show proof of purchase of these season tickets.

The public can be enlisted to do the following:

  • Pressure the federal government through petitions and letter-writing campaigns to increase the number of buses in the state and decentralise public transport decision-making.
  • Turn the quest for improved public transport in the state into a major general election campaign issue.
  • Take public transport to work at least once a week for a start.

We enclose our reasons for opposing the tunnel project and our reservations about the highway building spree.

Penang Forum Steering Committee

19 March 2013


About the vision:

  • Shouldn’t important public policies be based on evidence and analysis?
  • Will building more roads solve traffic problems?
  • Is the public being given an alternative based on sustainable transport?
  • Are we moving to the 21st century or moving back to 20th century with the state government’s emphasis on building infrastructure for private motor vehicles?
  • Does creating dependency on private transport help the poor?

About the process of making public policy

  • The formal agreement for the (Transport Masterplan) TMP was signed in mid 2011. In the same week, the CM announced the signing of MOU for four major road projects with Chinese companies. Does it make sense to have the solution before the study has started? Does this not ignore evidenced based analysis and policies?
  • Concurrent negotiations for the tunnel and highway projects started in 2011 held while the TMP study was underway. Why were awards for the projects given out even before the TMP is finalized and made public?Doesn’t this pre-empt the significance of the report’s recommendations?
  • TMP calls for a balanced approach to solving transport problems. It suggested short and medium term measures and recommended major road construction as longer term solutions commencing after the short/medium-term measures. Are we putting the cart before the horse by reversing the priorities suggested in the TMP?
  • Have there been independent feasibility studies, cost benefit analysis, traffic demand simulation etc done for ALL the four projects before they were tendered? Isn’t it standard best practice to conduct such studies BEFORE tender and award, rather than after?
  • The TMP is based on the assumption that the population will be 2.5m by 2030 and that by this time a sea tunnel may be justified. The Department of Statistics released a population projection last year which projects a population of 1.8m by 2030. It appears that Halcrow has not done any modelling of the population; they have just assumed historical growth rates will continue, which would suggest that the tunnel will not be required even by 2030.
  • How is the public expected to provide meaningful feedback when they are hazy about the precise alignment of the routes? All the precise proposed alignments should be displayed to the public for their comments. State gov should practice transparency especially now that the Freedom of Info Act has been passed?

About the tender

  • If there was an MOU with the China government, how can there be an open tender? Is that why only two bids were received for the tunnel – both involving firms from China? Why were there no other bids from other countries? Because of the earlier MOU? If so, is this really an open tender?
  • Who are the parties behind the three small local companies that were in the winning tender bid? Has there been an evaluation to look into their track record and expertise? Do these companies have any political connections?
  • What kind of performance bonds will the local companies give?
  • Can state government under the CAT policy make publicly available all the tender documents and acceptances and the decisions of the tender award?

About the reclaimed land

  • What are the plans for the 110 acres of land: how is the use of this land going to contribute to or solve some of our existing problems. Is it going to add to traffic congestion? Is it going to address shortages in public space and how is it going to influence the property market and the price of housing. How much affordable housing will be built on this land?
  • Who is going to develop the land – the local companies within the consortium, the China companies or an external developer? If so, who is the developer and the contractors and do they have any political connections?
  • Can the state government guarantee that there will be a really independent detailed environmental impact assessment for this land? Can it also guarantee that there will be a reliable independentt hydrological study for the entire island and mainland?
  • What is the market value and gross development value of the reclaimed land? Where exactly is this located?

The financial considerations

  • Who will pay for the cost of acquisition of private lands that are in the way of the proposed highways?
  • How was it decided to award 110 acres of reclaimed land to the project proponents along with a 30-year concession for tolls? Was there a financial projection of future revenue for both the reclaimed land and the tunnel toll collection? If so, how many billions in profit is the consortium estimated to make? If there is no financial projection, why not and how was it decided to award them reclaimed land in addition to a 30-year tunnel toll concession?

Misguided priorities

  • The TMP puts public transport at a much higher priority than the tunnel. In fact, the TMP consultants diplomatically (given that the tunnel was probably the state government’s idea) suggested that the tunnel would only be something to consider for 2030 and beyond. Why is this being brought forward to “2025-2030” and even earlier now?
  • If a tunnel or other cross-channel link is necessary, shouldn’t it be a rail link? A cross-channel rail link is more important given the completion of the dual tracking to Butterworth and the future high-speed rail linking Singapore to KL and Penang.
  • Why is the north coast pair road from Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bunga a priority now? Is it being driven by property development considerations? According to the TMP (and it’s clear to everybody), the Outer Bypass between Farlim and Tun Lim Expressway should be built first instead of the north coast pair road. Why is the state government putting it the other way round?
  • Focusing on building roads without addressing the demand for road use will NOT solve the problem. In fact, it might worsen the problem. Have all the highways, tunnels and flyovers in KL and Bangkok solved traffic congestion? If not, why are we going down that path?
  • There are two sides to the equation of traffic problem: the Supply Side (building more roads) and the Demand Side (the demand for those roads caused by more vehicles). What is being done to tackle the rising demand for motor vehicles and road space?
  • Do we realise that greenhouse gas emissions from road transport is one of the biggest contributors to global warming? How are more highways and a road-based tunnel compatible with the state government’s slogan of ‘Cleaner, greener Penang’? Shouldn’t we be laying the ground work for sustainable public transport now?

13 replies on “Penang Forum opposes road-based tunnel, serious reservations about highway-building spree”

It is a known fact that zarul is the right hand man of Padang Rengas MP. … lGE and Padang Rengas are (allegedly) best of friends.

Moreover how can a tailor (allegedly) be the marketing director of zenith construction sb? The tailor is (allegedly) the md of amity innovation SDN BHD, the uniform supplier for most GLCs.

The so called tailor also teamed up with Baili Group of china with proposals to turn Wisma Yeap Chor Yee at Weld Quay penang into a super high class Japanese restaurant and boutique hotel. And with plans to buy a plot of land with some squatters behind Skinnic near kelawei road to build super high class condo for buyers from china.

As a person who is passionate about the well-being of the people in Penang, I usually support causes that helps improve the well being and standard of living in Penang. In the case of the undersea tunnel and expressways, I am concerned that the opposition towards the project will eclipse their benefits, to the detriment of the people of Penang who often support opposition causes without much personal evaluation. The Penang Forum rightly has the best interest of Penang in mind. However, in the case of these infrastructure projects, I believe it is in the best interest of the people of Penang to lend our support to the Chief Minister in constructing these roadways, and to use our position to closely monitor how the undersea tunnel and expressways are constructed. In other words, “Go ahead and build, but we will watch you closely.”

The positive impact of the undersea tunnel is greater than any negative impact. Once the Second Penang Bridge is constructed, both the central and southern parts of Seberang Perai will be linked to Penang Island. These two regions will benefit from the resulting development, urbanization and industrialization. As Northern Seberang Perai remains the only region not directly linked, the cost of doing business there will be higher than the other two regions. As a result, Northern Seberang Perai risks becoming a backwater region.

We should not allow any particular region of Penang State to be neglected. The development and urbanization of Penang State should not be concentrated only to George Town, but should be evenly distributed to all the different regions. The construction of the undersea tunnel will spur development, industrialization and urbanization in Northern Seberang Perai. This will lead to the creation of jobs for the people there. As a whole, Penang State can develop at a uniform pace, without any region being left behind.

More roads do not attract more traffic. These are two separate issues. The number of vehicles added to the roads will grow regardless whether more roads are built. The number of cars increase because people need the cars, not because a new road is built. Nobody makes a decision such as “I’m going to buy a car because the government is building a new expressway.” The usual decision is, “I’m going to buy a car because I need a car to take me to work and back. And I’m thankful for the new expressway because it will reduce travel time to my work place.” There are more cars because there are more people; there are more people because there are more jobs. In towns with few job opportunities, people move away, and as a result, there are fewer cars on the roads and less congestion.

Most road users in Penang will agree that the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway helps to cut down travel time between the city and the southern part of Penang Island. Without this expressway, travel time between Batu Maung and George Town will be much longer using the existing Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah. This is an example where building the right road benefits the people of Penang.

One of the reasons for the congestion in Penang is that we don’t have the right roads. Instead of controlled-access expressways that move people quickly to their destination, we rely on district distributors to do the job. District distributors such as Perak Road, Scotland Road, Green Lane and Jalan Air Itam can only take this much traffic. These are not grade separated, they have outlets from people’s driveway. Each time a car pulls out onto the district distributor, it affects the overall speed and traffic flow.

The survival of Penang depends on managing its development, industrialization and urbanization. By allowing Penang to continue growing, we allow it to continue attracting investments and businesses. Any attempt to curtail this development – such as forcing people to drive a longer way because we refuse to build expressways that will cut travel time – will eventually force them to evaluate whether they should take their skills to other cities where the standard of living is better. As a comparison, although Singapore has an MRT and an excellent bus system, it also has a good network of expressways. The only expressway on Penang Island is the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway, and even then, it is not fully grade separated.

Roads exists not only for people, but for goods as well. The existence of expressways allow goods to be moved speedily from point of manufacture to point of export. If we are concerned that building these expressways will create congestions, we should take steps to ensure that these expressways are free from all users except those who need them most. This can be done through tolls, car pooling discounts, reduced fare for trucks/buses, and so on.

While I continue to support you for fighting for the well-being of the people of Penang, in the case of the undersea tunnel and expressways, I would urge you to reconsider your opposition to the projects. Though you make strong arguments against the projects, please do let the people of Penang, particularly those of northern Seberang Perai, be left behind as a result of your opposition. Once again, instead of completely opposing their construction, let us closely monitor how these will be executed.

As for canvasing the public for their views, this has already been done by the consultants for the Penang Transport Masterplan who were hired by the state government. Close to 800 questionnaires were completed. The consultants found that 82% of the public preferred a balanced approach that prioritised public transport. So who is ignoring public views?

The consultants also felt that a tunnel was not an immediate priority and need only be considered for 2030 and beyond. Why is the state government in a rush to get the tunnel going now?

800 out of 1.6 million… that’s great sampling technique, was it not?

Of course as a Penangnite, I want public transport. But Penang Forum, in making its demands, choose to neglect and ignore political reality and uncertainty. After GE13, perhaps Penang Forum can then shout more. You guys in Penang Forum want to go on bicycles and bus services, go ahead. I want roads.

Let me give you a small fry version of public transport: I have to wake up 6am because I have work at 8am. I leave home at 710am and it takes 20-30 minutes’ drive from Tanjung Bunga to George Town. If I take public transport, I have to wake up at 5am to allow for the time to walk to a bus station which is 10-15 minutes, wait another 10-20 minutes for a bus to go to work. I leave work at 630pm, do chores (grocery shopping) and dinner, and reach home between 715pm-8pm depending on my activities and traffic situation. If take bus, I will only reach home earliest at 9pm. If you dudes in Penang Forum can live with that, fine, but I can’t, because that’s not quality of life as Penang Forum so dearly espouses.

You guys want Public Transport. Fine. I want that too. But how to provide public transport? May I ask what practical and implementable solution Penang Forum has? So far, I hear your complaints and idealistic ‘ideas’ such as charging entrance fee to Penang island and George Town, but not concrete and practical solutions for the population of Penang.

So please, be practical, please don’t ignore the realities of the small-fry Penangnites. Tell your public transport ‘plan’ to those live in Relau, Air Itam, Paya Terubong, and those at Seberang Perai (remember, they are Penangnites too) and see how they will respond. If you guys in Penang Forum can live with current public transport, cycle to work, if you can live with current reality of state having no power in public transport, I salute you. But dare I speak for the rest: we can’t.

Hi Timothy Tye

More roads do generally attract more traffic. This is well studied and evidenced by many cities’ experiences. Please take a look on [PDF]Sterman J. D. (2000). Business dynamics: systems thinking and modeling for a complex world. Boston: Irwin McGraw-Hill, 177-189for the explanation.

You are right that “There are more cars because there are more people; there are more people because there are more jobs. In towns with few job opportunities, people move away, and as a result, there are fewer cars on the roads and less congestion.” So, “By allowing Penang to continue growing, we allow it to continue attracting investments and businesses”, don’t we expect that population in Penang continue to grow (including in-migration)? Then without heavy investment in public transport, don’t we need to find more land to build more roads infinitely?

Figure 5-34 in the PDF shows that “The number of vehicles in the region can be thought of as the product of the population of the region and the number of cars per person:The more people in the region (and the more businesses), the more vehicles there will be. The number of vehicles per person or business in turn is not constant but depend on the attractiveness of driving. The attractiveness of driving
depends on the level of congestion”. The key here is attractiveness of driving, as “Overtime,seeing that driving is now much more attractive than other modes of transport such as the public transit system, some people will give up the bus or subway and buy a car. The number of cars per person (and business) rises as people ask why they should Take the Bus?”

And Section “5.6.3 The Mass Transit Death Spiral” explains how it might affect the financial sustainability of the future Penang’s public transport system, if it ever be realised.

Hope this help

Thank you for sharing your opinion (though an entity calling itself a “forum” should by right be impartial, that is to say, create the forum for the public to air their opinion, rather than assume the role of the public). Nevertheless I thank you for your concern over the welfare of the people of Penang, an issue with we mutually subscribe.

According to you, “The consultants also felt that a tunnel was not an immediate priority and need only be considered for 2030 and beyond.”

This is looking at the issue solely from the transportation perspective.

As the leader of the state, the Chief Minister has to manage the well-being of the state from many angles, and not see an issue as tied solely to transportation.

It is the duty of the Chief Minister to ensure development is evenly distributed, and in particular northern Seberang Perai does not get left behind compared to central and southern Seberang Perai.

Another duty of the Chief Minister is wealth distribution. By establishing a direct link for northern Seberang Perai to Penang Island, he can uplift the income level of people living there, as he makes it more attractive for businesses to consider setting up plants and industrial parks in that area.

The Chief Minister also has to look at population distribution. If the time taken to travel from northern Seberang Perai to George Town is reduced, more people will be willing to relocate there. Time taken for buses to travel between northern Seberang Perai to Penang Island will also go down, making it more practical for people to consider living there, even if they hold jobs in George Town. Much have been said about improving public transport. With a link between George Town and northern Seberang Perai established, Rapid Penang can introduce direct bus services on that link.

Income disparity between the races is also his concern. The people living in northern Seberang Perai are mostly Malays. By bringing development to that region, the Chief Minister can help address income inbalance between the races.

The Chief Minister also has to look at job opportunities. The resulting link will bring development, industrialization and urbanization, providing lots of job opportunities to the people of northern Seberang Perai.

The job of the consultants is to tell us about transport. That’s what we ask them and that’s what they tell us. But the job of the Chief Minister is to be the leader of the people of Penang. And that role goes far beyond focusing solely on transportation. He has to take so many things into account: wealth distribution, population distribution, income disparity, job opportunities, things outside the scope of the transport consultants. While a tunnel, from a transport perspective, might not appear to be an immediate priority, addressing income imbalance, improving wealth and population distribution, improving job opportunities, those are. And all these are addressed with the decision to construct the link.

You asked, “Why is the state government in a rush to get the tunnel going now?” Well, one reason is, the Second Penang Bridge will be completed soon, bringing lots of benefits to the people in southern Seberang Perai. The Chief Minister does not want the people in northern Seberang Perai to feel that he has neglected their well being. When we consider the opportunity to help people in a rural, neglected region enjoy a better life, don’t you agree that the sooner is indeed the better?

A good leader is one who looks after the welfare of the people of Penang from all angles. Once we have elected someone to be our Chief Minister, we should stand behind him and follow his leadership rather than try to do his job or interfere with his decision. We don’t carry his problems to bed at night, so we cannot fully comprehend all the various angles he has to consider in deriving his decision.

If we do not agree with his leadership, we can always choose a different leader with a different vision the next time the opportunity to vote arises.

The question is, the real purpose of these MEGA-projects is to address traffic congestion or to stimulate GDP? As for the “develop northern Seberang Perai” argument, holistic land use planning for the whole Penang state is much more critical to balanced development than simply building links. What kind of development to northern Seberang Perai? Housing constructions? Turn the agricultural lands to manufacturing? Will the people share the benefit? Is this people want?

(Some thoughts but haven’t study thoroughly) If we think current population density in Penang Island is desired and don’t want to be as crowded as Singapore or Hong Kong, actually we can consider focus new development to Seberang Perai, since Island’s land is essentially limited. Increase attractiveness of Seberang Perai compared to Island, like better commercial hub than Island, so mainlanders don’t need to across the Strait for shopping. If Sebarang Perai is attractive enough, the islanders won’t complain to buy house and live in mainland (few mainlanders complain when they migrated into Island). Do we want to keep attracting people to migrate into Island and keep giving births in Island? Ultimately, we have to have population policy to manage population we desired.

The following response is also uploaded to so that readers of Penang Travel Tips can get to read my comment without delay.

Thank you Tony for your comments.

Does Penang have too much or too few expressways? People who oppose the construction of expressways often say, “Studies show that more roads will lead to more congestion”. That is an example of observational data used to show correlation equals causation.

But the fact is, observational data cannot be used to show that correlation equals causation.

Just because we see more roads being built, and later on we see more congestion, we cannot conclude that the road caused congestion. Other factors are involved. What We have to determine is what actually causes the congestion. The statement “building more roads will lead to more congestion” cannot be applied with equal strength to any city anywhere. Is person talking about Taiping, Tokyo, Timbuktu and Taman Negara? If we loop a few expressways around Taman Negara, will cars magically appear to create congestion in the jungle? If no, then the argument that “more roads leads to more congestion” is flawed.

The second thing to note is, “how much road is too much road?” If we can agree that, “At this point, we have too much, before that, we have too little,” then there is point of reference that is measurable.

Do we have an expressway connecting George Town to Teluk Bahang? No. Teluk Bahang to Gertak Sanggul? No. Gertak Sanggul to Batu Maung? No. How about from Air Itam to George Town, Teluk Bahang, Gertak Sanggul or Batu Maung? No, no, no, no. How many expressways do we have on Penang Island anyway? One. Is one too many?

Let’s do the math.

Total land area: 293 square kilometers of land area
Total length of its expressways: 9.8 km*
Number of expressways: 1 (Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway)
Every kilometer of expressway has to serve 29.9 square kilometer of land area

* Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway from Cecil Street Ghaut Intersection to Queensbay Interchange. (That’s the only section we can consider as expressway with grade-separated interchanges).

Total land area: 710 square kilometer
Total length of its expressways: 150 km
Number of expressways: 8 (Ayer Rajah Expressway, Bukit Timah Expressway, Central Expressway, East Coast Parkway, Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway, Marina Coastal Expressway, North-South Expressway, Pan-Island Expressway, Seletar Expressway, Tampines Expressway)
Every kilometer of expressway has to serve only 4.7 square kilometer of land area FOUR POINT SEVEN!!
Source: Transport in Singapore (

You can use the expressway to travel from one end of Singapore to the other, from east to west, from north to south. In Penang you can only travel on expressway from Cecil Street Ghaut intersection to Queensbay interchange.

There are SIX TIMES more expressways in Singapore than on Penang Island. A kilometer of expressway on Penang Island has to do six times the work of a kilometer in Singapore, and you say that’s too much expressway on Penang Island? So before anybody can claim that Penang Island has too many expressways, you have to first determine how much is too much. As the numbers show, we don’t have enough.

If building expressways is such a bad thing, it would have gone out of fashion in Singapore. Ditto Shanghai and Seoul. But the fact remains that a city, at a stage when it is developing rapidly, needs expressways to support its vibrant economic development.

I hate having to repeat myself, but it appears I have to.
1) More roads do not attract more traffic, these are two separate issues. (You can test it by building expressways round and round Taman Negara).
2) Building the right road benefits the people of Penang. When talking about “more roads”, we should be absolutely clear that we are referring to EXPRESSWAYS, not district distributors, not city streets, not back alleys.
3) I never said build expressways at the expense of improving public transport. Both should be improved. Continue to improve our buses. Consider introducing MRT.

As Penang continues to grow, I would expect it to attract not only investors, but also workers from other cities. It’s the same happening in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. People go where their skills are employable. They won’t come here if there’s no work for them. Rather than fearing incomers for increasing the population density of Penang, we should make plans to accommodate more people, open up new townships in Seberang Perai, and building expressways to ensure people can move quickly from home to office.

Different states have different needs and capabilities. If one square foot of Penang land offers better yield for industry than for agriculture, we should use it for industry, and let our neighbouring states remain agricultural. Don’t hinder our potential.

To be able to grow is a very good thing. It’s a good fortune that bypasses many other towns and cities in Malaysia. If you compare Penang to so many other Malaysian cities, you will find that house prices there hardly ever increase. Those who see the glass as half empty will say that development causes everything to be more expensive. But the optimists see all the benefits and improvement in the quality of life.

Singapore shows us that it is possible to have a good quality of life even in a densely populated area. But it doesn’t have to be so. There are many Third World cities with high population density but poor quality of life. The quality of our lives improves when we are willing to embrace public infrastructure to support our growth.

We must preserve our competitive edge. If we apply brakes on building expressways, we will just allow neighbouring cities such as Phuket and Medan to zip past us. Again, although Singapore has an excellent bus network and an MRT, it still continues to build expressways. To the question of “don’t we need to find more land to build more roads infinitely?” The answer is, if we don’t build expressways soon, we will indeed choke ourselves. Our congestion can be attributed to many factors, but not to an overabundance of expressways. If we already have two or three looped around the island, a few connecting Air Itam to George Town, Batu Maung, Teluk Bahang, etc., then yes, I would say we should reconsider building another. But right now, the answer is none, none, none.

Going to your next comment, you use the term “MEGA-projects”. When Shanghai needs bridges, when Hong Kong needs expressway: they don’t call them mega projects, they call them NECESSITIES. Or Investments with returns.

As to your question, “What kind of development to northern Seberang Perai? Housing constructions? Turn the agricultural lands to manufacturing? Will the people share the benefit? Is this people want?”

On the “is this (what) people want” question, I would recommend that you visit Perai, Bukit Mertajam, Seberang Jaya, Bukit Tengah and Bukit Minyak. Ask the folks living there whether the Penang Bridge is a good idea. Did it bring more good or bad? How many will say, “The Penang Bridge, what calamity! Please, please dismantle it immediately! It’s not what I want!”

If you can get the majority of the people in the aforementioned townships to call for the removal of the Penang Bridge, then I would agree that a link is not what the people in northern Seberang Perai want.

If you live in Bagan Ajam or Kepala Batas, and you look forward to the news that the state government will build a link that will reduce your travel time to George Town, you would be very upset with those opposing the proposal. And if the naysayers get their way, you won’t get to see a link within this lifetime.

I am born in Penang, I live in Penang, and I I love Penang with all my heart. I want to see my brothers and sisters in all parts of Penang State enjoy the fruits of its development. Though some may fear the unknown brought by development, the majority sees tremendous improvement to the quality of their lives due to development.

My vision for Penang is a progressive state that is not afraid to embark on state-of-the-art projects that preserves our attractiveness and competitiveness. I have a clear vision of better things to come with the construction of the undersea tunnels and the expressways. And even more expressways planned for the future.

The incumbent Chief Minister has planned an undersea tunnel and a few expressways for my home state, and that gets me pretty excited. Anybody wanting the Chief Minister’s seat has to OUTDO him instead of opposing his proposal. If the challenger is one who sees the glass as half empty, he is not my candidate. Instead, if the incumbent Chief Minister gives me one kilometer of expressway, I expect the challenger to propose two. When the time comes to elect, I am not votiing for a PERSON or a PARTY. As P is for PENANG, I’m voting for PROGRESS!

Your calculations on land mass of Penang Island are flawed as they overlook the fact that a huge chunk of Penang Island is occupied by Penang Hill, which means the inhabitable land and area for roads is much lower than 293 square km.

The incumbent CM also wants trams. Do you wholeheartedly support that proposal too? Just wondering.

Thank you so much for asking, Penangite.

I did not overlook the fact that a huge chunk of Penang Island is occupied by Penang Hill. Instead, you overlook a huge chunk of Singapore is occupied by reservoirs and military reserves. The Western Water Catchment area of Singapore, along with Upper Seletar Reservoir, Upper Peirce Reservoir, Lower Peirce Reservoir, MacRitchie Reservoir and Lower Seleter Reservoir are comparable to land occupied by Penang Hill. These areas are not for development. So if you consider Penang Hill without considering the reserve areas in Singapore, then your own consideration is not balanced up.

(I also did not take into account land area and expressways in Penang Mainland, because the context of the issue are new expressways on Penang Island.)

I am not agreeable with the Chief Minister for the introduction of trams. Rather than elaborating it in detail here, you can read my opinion about trams right here:

I don’t agree with the Chief Minister blindly. My opinion is based on my personal evaluation of what I feel is best for Penang. I fully respect the views of others which are different from mine. When we agree or disagree, it’s useful to explain our position in detail, so that people can understand how we derive our opinion.

The model I show is causation model, not correlation. And the good thing is you can put whatever factors you think are involved and test it — whether the factor is important or less significance, the assumption we hold is flawed or even contradictory. For example, by building expressways around Taman Negara, more visitors are likely to visit by cars, take more trips and longer trips. In the peak tourist season, Traffic Volume should increase and thus Travel Time.

“I never said build expressways at the expense of improving public transport. Both should be improved. Continue to improve our buses. Consider introducing MRT.” The concern is, if expressways and public transport are built at the same time, who want to use the public transport? We already used to drive cars, why should we take the bus? Even we have MRT now, it takes time to attract people to transit through MRT+bus. The BEST (Bridge Express Shuttle Transit) initiative is not very successful.

The point is we have to be very wary about Attractiveness of Driving. Does our intervention increase it or decrease it? If we get it wrong, it will defeat our purpose. Talking about Singapore, please take a look on Chapter 5 (pg 40) of [PDF]Singapore’s Land Use Plan report. It considers public transport, expressways, land use(commercial centres, residential areas, employment areas, and even parks), and even population together, so that they can gain synergy of policies, not conflicting interventions cancel out each other.

I am not against “MEGA-projects”, as public transport system might need high cost infrastructure too. The question is what benefits and consequences? Of course, higher cost requires more careful study.

My point is to achieve balanced development, holistic planning for the whole Penang state (or even whole Malaysia) is much more critical than simply building links.

Thank you Tony for sharing your opinion. I do believe that through our discussion, useful insights can be gained that will provide helpful inputs to our local planners as well as state government.

Before I go any further, I would encourage people wanting to respond to me to first read all my articles on this thread. I find that I keep having to explain what I have already explained.

I observe that, among people who oppose the new expressways and undersea tunnel, there is a prevailing pessimism that seems to shun development for Penang. From the CAP letter, it appears that people opposing the project seems to want to shelf any consideration of an undersea tunnel to a later date, rather than start the planning today. They say things like, “But the Second Penang Bridge has just been completed … “, even though the actual realization of the link may not be for many, many years to come. Despite this claim of holistic planning, its concern seems to concentrate only on George Town and the city’s congestion; I don’t find much that is mentioned about achieving or addressing even development across Penang State, for regions that are otherwise neglected. Those opposed to the undersea tunnel and expressways, while being boisterous in their objection, have not articulated how they intend to reduce time taken to travel from places such as Teluk Bahang, Balik Pulau, Paya Terubong to George Town and Bayan Lepas, where most people work. By following their advise, people living in these areas can expect to spend a long time taking buses.

Congestion is a grave issue that concerns all. However, many who oppose the construction of new expressways do not appear to realise that congestion is the byproduct of growth. It is because of growth (increased in the number of jobs leading to the increase in the number of people leading to the increase in the number of cars) that the roads become congested.

People seem to equate correlation with causation. In the example of Taman Negara, while it’s true that visitors to Taman Negara will increase if you build an expressway around it, as will all destinations, if you coil a second, then a third expressway around Taman Negara, then a fourth, eventually the visitor numbers will plateau, discrediting the assumption that “more roads leads to more congestion”.

Comparing Langkawi and Penang, we find that there is less congestion in Langkawi. Can we assume that there will be congestion if we double the number of roads in Langkawi? If everything else is kept the same (number of flights, number of attractions, number of ferry services), there will only be twice the length of roads to the same number of cars.

Penang is different from Taman Negara or Langkawi in that it is one of the major cities of Malaysia. It provides employment not only to the people of Penang State, but also to neighbouring Kedah and Perak, and for skilled labour and top management executive, it draws labour from major cities as well.

The congestion in Penang is due to a robust economy. More houses are being built, more jobs are created, more people coming to live in Penang. All these are putting a strain on the existing roads.

It is good to call for the improvement of public transport. I acknowledge that a bus can replace many cars. A train can replace even more cars. I fully support improving public transport, we cannot expect to improve the situation by trying to further improve public transport without constructing new expressways.

We need expressways, at least one to link all the major townships on Penang Island (Teluk Bahang, Balik Pulau, Teluk Kumbar, Paya Terubong/Air Itam, Bayan Baru/Bayan Lepas). If we have that, and the state government plans to build a second one, then we can question the need for another. But right now, we don’t.

Thank you for sharing Singapore’s Land Use Plan report. There is so much we can learn from Singapore, as long as we take the learnings holistically, and not simply pluck out of context. Look at how Singapore is planning growth corridors and townships such as Punggol and Bukit Brown (we should do the same for Balik Pulau, Teluk Kumbar and the northern, central and southern regions of Seberang Perai).

The backbone of Singapore’s public transport are the trains (MRT) and the buses. Even though it is densely populated, Singapore doesn’t stop planning more expressways. It understands that new expressways are essential, and we should too. In the case of buses, these ride of an excellent network of expressways which we in Penang do not have. And neither do we have trains, which I mentioned in my article of 26 March, paragraph 10, item 3, we should consider introducing.

What we can learn from Singapore as a whole is that it never stops planning. Even as one piece of public infrastructure is completed (in our case, the Second Penang Bridge, in their case perhaps a new terminal building for Changi), they are already a few steps ahead in planning what’s next. And the public in Singapore enjoys this systematic improvement to their lives. The type of public pressure in Singapore is also different from ours; their’s is more FOR development (i.e. pressuring the government to open an MRT station, i.e. Buangkok MRT Station, even though the government feels the low surrounding population density make opening the station not financially justifiable). Over here, we have NGOs who are supposed to see the whole picture but it is they who are suffering from tunnel vision.

I have also mentioned (19 March, paragraph 8, first sentence) that expressways exist not only for people, but for goods. And without improving our expressways, our ability to improve public transport is curtailed. (Refer also to my article of 21 March, paragraph 7.)

Tony, you mentioned that the BEST initiative is not very successful. This experiment should be an indication that there is a limit to public acceptance of public transport. We can’t force people to take bus, unless we can make the buses (or any other form of public transport) an attractive option over driving. (Why do people spend so much money to buy a car, with road tax and insurance some more, when they can take public transport?)

One of the major enemies of public transport is time. Each of us is given 24 hours a day. If it takes too long a time to commute by bus, this will affect a person’s productivity, and hence his reluctance to use public transport.

Our experience with the BEST buses show that even if you make the public transport free, that is still not good enough an incentive, because it still does not adequately overcome the main obstacle: time-wastage. The only people who would use it are those who can’t afford to drive. If they cannot afford a car, many would rather use a motorcycle.

There is something important articulated in Singapore’s Land Use Plan, and I need to point it out: EASE AND COMFORT. Life in a densely populated city is stressful, it is comforting to observe the authorities make decisions based on how people can move about with greater ease and comfort (page 40). This means to do whatever is necessary (build expressways, route buses on the expressways, build MRT lines, build MRT stations) to ensure people’s ease of travel and comfort when traveling are paramount. It goes without saying that this includes ensuring travel time is within a reasonable limit.

We have to remember that most commuters don’t travel short distances within George Town. Many have to travel from Balik Pulau, Paya Terubong, Teluk Kumbar or even the mainland, to get to work in George Town and Bayan Lepas. Which is why we need good expressways for the public transport. Without good expressways, there would be a low ceiling over how much we can improve on our public transport.

I am bringing you my recommendation not out of a vacuum, but based on having analysed over a thousand places in Penang (which I’ve listed here: and hundreds of housing estates, apartments and condominiums ( Each of them I have photographed and taken the trouble to find out what bus goes there. Yes, I want to encourage people to use public transport too. But as I survey the situation from ground level, I also realise that we are being realistic if we expect people to embrace public transport on our existing roads. It is impossible to make those cars disappear, and even if we do, the distance and the type of roads we have still make a bus trip from, say, Teluk Kumbar, to George Town, too long for a worker. If you stand by the roadside in Teluk Kumbar, or Paya Terubong, you will see that the roads are filled with cars in the early morning, even before the sky is bright. Wouldn’t people want to sleep longer if they could? Now imagine how much more suffering they have to endure if they have to take the bus.

Yes, I want to encourage the use of public transport, but our roads are just not good enough. Even if the buses are free, people will still drive because they can cover the distance faster. The only solution is to have a new toll expressway, not to replace the existing roads, but to be an alternative. If we run a bus route on the new expressway, the time taken to cover Teluk Kumbar to George Town, or Paya Terubong to Bayan Lepas, will be reduced. If it is a lot more expensive to drive on the expressway than to take the bus, then it provides people an option to consider whether they want to stay in the congestion of the existing roads, or take the bus, or pay to use the expressway. At least, with new road, there is room from improvement.

We are not as fortunate as Singapore, which has the same government planning its future. Over here, presently, there’s a federal government and a state government, and they don’t always cooperate. The state government has already explained that it proposes the undersea tunnel and expressways due to what it can provide the people of Penang. Ideally both the federal and state governments should work closely together – that’s my wish – but since that is not something presently realised, I accept what is presently proposed.

Tony, you also mentioned, “if expressways and public transport are built at the same time, who want to use the public transport?” I have already explained that above, and in my article of 19 March (above), paragraph 8, last sentence.

Expressways exist as the backbone to support our continuous economic development. Imagine a West Malaysia without the North-South Expressway, or a Penang Island without the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway. There are ways to ensure the expressways are there for the purpose of our nation’s development. If the expressway is there, we can use it for a specific good, if it isn’t there, we can’t use it for anything. Controlling the amount of traffic entering the expressways can be achieved through a combined of carrot-and-stick approach. Tolls, car-pool discounts, and other means can be used and adjusted to ensure the expressways are neither under-used or congested.

Once our expressways are in excellent shape, then we can plan the bus routes on them. The expressways will make buses travel faster between townships in Penang, erasing the opposition for taking public transport. Concurrently, we should also be planning trains (MRT, not monorails) to connect our townships to the city centre or to the industrial areas. There’s so much that we can do, but it has to start with dismantling our opposition to new expressways (and undersea tunnel).

I am not a politician, but I need to point out to any politician in Penang the need to pay attention to northern Seberang Perai. Do not allow it to become a backwater. The politicans should tell us how he intends to ensure no region of Penang State is neglected or left behind. We cannot afford to be George Town-centric anymore. Just look at Singapore’s Land Use Plan. It’s about the whole nation, not the City of Singapore. Similarly, politicians have to articulate Penang State’s land use plan.

I am supportive of the undersea tunnel because it provides us the infrastructure for long-term development of northern Seberang Perai. Do not expect the link to appear overnight. It takes years of engineering and planning to realise it, so the planning must start as soon as possible. I am also supportive of the new expressways, though personally I would have been even more ambitious, envisioning expressways to connect Teluk Bahang, Balik Pulau, Paya Terubong and Teluk Kumbar with Bayan Lepas and George Town. Who is going to plan this for us, and when?

We are living in a very competitive environment. What we do in Penang will benefit people in Kedah and Perak. We cannot afford to rein back development, or even postpone planning for tomorrow what we can plan today, as it will cause us to be less competitive in the future. Penang is a densely populated state. We should have the same mindset as planners in Singapore, Shanghai, Seoul and other densely populated cities. Opposing infrastructure projects may blunt our growth. When the economy is good, jobs are easy to create. But once we lose our competitiveness, our economy will be affected, and jobs harder to create. For a densely populated state, we simply cannot afford that.

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