Bicycle share system: Put in safety infrastructure first


I am reproducing below a message from Ken Khor of Metro Bikes, calling on the Penang state government to prioritise public safety infrastructure for cyclists first before it moves on to the next stage.

YB Chow,

I was glad to meet with you at GTWHI today. Initially, we planned to pass over the Open Letter to you today but J suggested to have a separate dialogue session between you and the bike rent operators and heritage communities to address their concerns.

It came as a surprise – I thought today’s tender (for a bicycle share system) was a ‘Request For Proposal for Ideas’, but I was told that the project is going ‘live’ after April 2014.

Generally, we agree that this project brings good for tourism and the local community. But, our highlight to the government is to put public safety infrastructure as a priority rather than by-pass it to the next step and spend millions of ringgit building bicycle share systems.

Today, Mr Y highlighted that a Komtar bicycle share centre is desired to be built first as high priority. For your information, Metro Bike decided to close down its Komtar Walk centre after operating for years there due to the dangerous traffic situation: we have had several reported cases from tourists that they were nearly knocked down by motorised vehicles. Without a safe cycling environment, bicycle transport can hardly be used by public.

Again, many countries planned their safe bicycle lanes infrastructure before the bicycle-share systems were introduced in their cities i.e. Hangzhou, Shanghai and Kaoshiong.

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In my opinion, it is not a political tug of war. As we are building the next generation transport infrastructure, we need to carefully plan and perform sufficient field research studies before project implementation. (Sorry, I really think that MPPP and Penang State traffic need to spend more effort and time in this area.) …

Lastly, we appreciate and hope the George Town heritage bike operators and the communities have a chance to express their views and provide input before the bicycle-share project goes ‘live’.

Thank you

Ken Khor
Metro Bike

What do you think? Are we putting the cart before the bicycle?

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  1. In 5 years time, people do not talk kangkung cheap, as BN has promise cheap cars with lower price by 30%. So cycle now, drive big cars in 5 years!

  2. Bicycle sharing services are currently available in over 200 cities, including New York, Boston, Washington DC, Denver, Minneapolis, London, Paris, and Barcelona. More city programs are launching each year. In London, the 6000-bicycle Barclays Cycle Hire program has recorded 4.5 million trips in its first year of operation (and expanded to 8000 bicycles this spring). Washington DC’s original 400-bicycle program was so successful that it has now has 2000 bicycles and has expanded into neighboring counties to keep up with demand.
    The rapid adoption of bicycle sharing is the proof that bicycle share gets more people on bicycles and improves safety for everyday riders.

  3. Contrary to general belief that the streets are unsafe for cycling, bicycle share gets more people on bicycles and improves safety for everyday riders. More bicycles on the road have created safer streets in communities around the world. The visibility and a growing volume in the number of cyclists on city streets create an opportunity to educate all users on how to safely share roadways. So let start occupy George Town and reclaim our streets by cycling with public bikes

  4. When the world first think of bike sharing. The very first thing to overcome is road safety. We try to put up bike stations at the interval of 200m. The density is to allow you to travel in short distance. Don’t assume that we are as stupid as you. Your assumption is making an ass out of u and me.

  5. Short distance cycling is not so unsafe. Public bicycle is for short distance traveling. Mostly for the places where buses do not pass by or less traffic areas. If you want to take risk to cycle around that is your choice. You should cycle to the nearby transit station or to your office or hawker stores nearby. That would not pose too much risks for you. Don’t try to imitate Lim Mah Hui who traveled long distance with his bike.

  6. I really can’t understand why Ken still selling bicycles in the island since it is so dangerous to cycle. I really wonder why Ken want to operate a bike renting business when it is so dangerous to cycle in the island. I really don’t understand why Ken keep his mouth shut up for years about the safety aspect of cycling when he is in the business of bike rental.
    Ken is worry about his bicycle business if Public Bicycles are make available to the public at fiction of cost. That is the real reason why he is so panic and outspoken suddenly.
    To make the MPPP embrace the ideas of Public Bicycles as an alternative mode of transport for the public is not an easy task. If You knew how I mock and ran down the MPPP at every available opportunities, then you probably will treasure this public services that I fought alone without the support of so called environmentalists.
    People tell me all kind of reasons to stop this so called stupid project. If it is so stupid, why it is a worldwide trend to make Public Bicycle a public service for the minority?
    My own sister told me that it is too hot to cycle, but I told her it is too hot to walk too. You forget that there are people who walk to work, not that they can’t afford public buses. It is because the distance is too short for buses but too long for walking.
    We are serving minority that have been ignored by the majority. We are not interested to serve the rich and the majority. The 1000 bikes are for 20,000 tourists and 700,000 populations in the heritage enclave. We are not targeting everyone but only those who truly need an alternative transit to make their life easier.
    If you do not have this vision, join the majority and leave us alone. You are not welcome at all to enjoy the facilities.
    It is equally not safe to walk on our street today. Cycling probably will reduce the time you spend on the streets and thus reduce the probability of being rob in broad day light.

  7. Ken is talking non-sense when he operate his bike for rent, did he ever ask about the safety issues? Did he ever lobby for safety issues? Did he ever make any effort to improve anything for his bike renting business. It is when he realise that his business is threatened by the new concept of bike renting, he is panic! Taipei forever will not be safe for cycling. Why the bicycle sharing is so popular in Taipei? Why safety was never a concern for Ken when he is the sole bike renting operator in the island?

  8. Better be safe than sorry; and no blame game later.

    too many impatient motor cyclists & cars on Penang congested road and better ride with precaution.

    dont take risk !

  9. Cycling alone is as risky as jogging alone, as in the case of unresolved rape/murder case of Chee Gaik Yap:

    • Cars and 4WD can be unsafe too. People are getting shot, kidnaped and robbed in or near their vehicles.

  10. Anil, please pass this comment to Penang Forum core group too. I agree 100% with Ken. For your information, i believe this bike share proposal was initiated and lobbied by representatives from NGO. I was called for a meeting by Ir Lim Thean Heng together with Jonathan & Cr Michael Lim Mah Hui where a bike share concept with hubs throughout GT area and Komtar was proposed. My immediate reaction was that the basic infra is so poor and most people feedback that cycling is too dangerous, so money is better spent to plan, design and improve our street infra to make it safer for cyclists first! I rather we spend more on getting these things right before jumping the gun to have fancy bike share facilities. However, Cr Lim was very taken by the idea and enthusiastically supportive of having bike share facilities sponsored by MPPP, saying he would happily give from his allocation and will lobby council and other councillors. In Pulau Tikus I’m desperately fighting for better city planning and infra and getting the fundamentals right. We should not be so obssessed with cycling that we get the order of priorities and practicalities wrong. I wish some NGO reps can be more down to earth.

      • I wish YB Yap would get her facts right before jumping the gun to accuse me (the NGO representative) of not being down to earth. For the record, while I heartily support the bike-share system as I believe bicycling as one important component of a sustainable transport system (see my speech in full council meeting on OCt. 25, 2013, available on, I am not pushing for its full-speed implementation without deliberate consideration and planning.

        The meeting that YB Yap referred to where she was invited was not initiated by me or any NGO. Like her, I was invited to the meeting without any prior knowledge. Unlike her, I do believe the bike-share system is a worthwhile project to support and has been shown to be universally accepted. See recent 3/01/2014 article in FMT on “Will 2014 be year of the bike?”

        Having said that, I was very much taken by surprise when the Council announced in November it was calling for a RFP for the bike share project. In fact, I argued with the authorities concerned that we should proceed with deliberate speed, learn from the successes and failures of other cities that have implemented such systems, plan the project properly, and do it right rather than quick. I was against rushing into the project but was over-ruled.

        Secondly, I have always advocated that we need to have dedicated bicycle lanes to make it safe for people to cycle. (I was swiped by a car a few months ago but fortunately escaped unhurt.) The present system of painting bicycle symbols on public roads is sorely inadequate. I call these suicide lanes, not bicycle lanes. However the engineers in the Council argue they would like to see more cyclists on the road to warrant provision of dedicated lanes. My counter argument is unless you provide safe dedicated bike lanes people wont cycle. A survey conducted by Anil Netto in his blog asked if people would cycle if provided with safe dedicated lanes; 80% answered positively.

        If YB Yap is supportive of making it safe for people to cycle, I would like to know why she stated in a public forum on sustainable transportation late last year she was against having dedicated bicycles lanes in her constituency? Can she please explain what infrastructures she has in mind to make it safe for people to cycle? While its a chicken and egg conundrum, I believe the two should go together, i.e., start with some dedicated lanes in key areas while also implementing the bike share system in incremental stages.

        Finally, I would appreciate if YB Yap keeps her disagreement with me at a policy level and not make condescending personal remarks that are not helpful.

    • You are right. Better city planning and infrastructure for everyone should be the priority. There is no point in having bikes to share when an old lady cannot walk to the market in a safe and comfortable manner. Speaking about P. Tikus, during the implementation of the one-way system, MPPP contractors demolished many existing sidewalks to make way for road widening and have yet to rebuild them. This poses a danger to pedestrians who have to walk on the road with cars travelling fast on a one-way road. Complaints have been lodged to the MPPP but no action has been taken. I hope you can urge the MPPP/exco for local govt to do something about it.

      And yes I too wish people would be more down to earth, not just ppl from the NGOs but also ppl within the government. I also urge those in power (especially those in local govt) to read the comments in this blog. There are comments which are extreme, there are those which are irrelevant (like mine) but there are also many which give balanced and constructive criticisms. It will certainly do a lot of good in improving their city planning skills.

  11. I 100% agree with Ken. Until the safety element is resolved, no one in their right mind would think about commuting to work in Penang. All the other aspects like saving money, beating traffic jams, where to shower, shared bikes vs own bikes, etc are secondary.

    Obviously YB Chow has never been riding on the roads to jump the gun and ask for a bike sharing proposal without thinking of what is required to get people to ditch their cars. Right now, the only day you’d dare ride on the roads is Sunday and only between 7am and 10am.

    Just look at our roads. The MPPP or JKR can’t even get the lines of the lanes straight. Then you have some lanes that shrink so much that you can’t fit a vehicle in it. On top of that, poor planning of the U-turn and right turn lanes create traffic confusion and cars end up swerving around from lane to lane – just look at Tanjung Tokong Rd as an example: you can’t travel along in one lane the whole way to the start of the winding road to Batu Ferringhi as you’re forced to weave between lanes to dodge double parked cars blocking a lane, left lanes disappearing, then right lanes that turn into U-turn lanes (instead of the dual carriageway going along and then have the U-turn lanes ADDED on the right).

    Furthermore, the council can’t even keep people from illegally parking on 100m stretch of “bike lane” (FYI a segregated cycle lane is required in high speed areas not some green paint) so how are they going to entice people to abandon their cars?

    A lot more work needs to be done YB Chow. It sounds more like pie in the sky than a transformation plan. There are many who will consider but not if it means running a twice daily gauntlet to work.

    If its a gimmick for tourists, then say so. Don’t call it part of a transport plan because then this is not much of a plan. To transform a society hooked to car and motorbike transport into taking pedal power as a mode of transport, you need a remarkable transformational plan. And it doesn’t look like they’ve even understood what is required which is the first step!

    But saying that, I would LOVE to be wrong if it meant being able to cycle to work.

    Though not perfect, Google London’s proposed segregated bike superhighway, or how Amsterdam re-designed its city centre and have a look what is required.

  12. Precisely how I feel. You know in Pg and many other parts of Malaysia you can get knocked down by motorcyclists even while walking on pedestrian walkways. A walkway that is built for pedestrians becomes a place to ride motorbikes, park cars, place goods etc (I will send in a photo of this). Even the trial bicycle lane set up in tg bungah has become a parking space for cars. And what do the authorities (both MPPP and police) do? They turn a blind eye. They are more interested in checking if you have parking coupons or if you have renewed your road tax. Let’s not even talk about cycling facilities when we don’t even have proper walking facilities.

    I too agree that a bike share system is good. But if the bike share system is implemented before the necessary infrastructure, then George Town will be filled with bicycles competing with cars and motorcycles and pedestrians for space, which is already happening now. Not forgetting stalls and tables which are set up on the road (apparently it is part of our culture).This only lends to the haphazard situation in town.


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