Penang at a crossroads: Building more highways or a good public transport system?


MBPP councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui wrote this commentary after an exchange with Roger Teoh, a PhD student in transport engineering, who is also a DAP member:

Over the past weeks, Roger Teoh, a PhD student in transport engineering, has contributed three articles in Malaysiakini on the proposed Penang transport masterplan. Based on an analysis of an extensive database of key transport statistics from 100 cities around the world, he has come to several important conclusions, many of which are very relevant for Penang.

First and foremost, he confirms, what is broadly accepted by academics, that supplying more highways simply creates more demand for their use (he calls it induced demand). Any initial improvement in traffic congestion will eventually be wiped out, i.e., building more roads does not solve traffic congestion; it only kicks the can down the road.

Unless engineers, politicians and transport planners understand this fundamental fact, we are forever doomed to repeat the same expensive mistakes.

His data analysis of 100 cities shows a very strong positive correlation between car use and highway supply, i.e. the more highways supplied the more a city is car dependent, regardless of public transport improvement.

He also showed that, compared to other cities, Penang has a relatively high per capita freeway supply (in fact higher than Singapore); and the Penang transport masterplan’s proposed highway construction will further increase this supply to make Penang even more car dependent.

In fact, his modelling showed that under the proposed Penang transport masterplan, car modal share will increase from 65 per cent to 72 per cent and public transport modal share will decrease to 12 per cent, well below the Penang state government’s target of 40 per cent public transport modal share by 2030. In other words, the Penang transport masterplan contradicts the state’s transport policy of moving people not cars.

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He then argues that the only way to reduce car dependence is to build and improve on an urban rail system. He shows that cities with urban rail systems (trams, LRT or metro) reduce their car use, while those without any urban rail system increase their car dependence. His alternative scenario of constructing more urban rail for Penang will reduce car modal share by 4 per cent (from 66 per cent to 62 per cent) while increasing public transport usage to 20 per cent by 2022.

Penang is at an important crossroads. Which road will it take? Will the state ignore scientific evidence and make policies based on personal whims and populism by over-investing in highways to please car users? Or will it show far-sighted and courageous leadership by building and improving public transport – and educate and lead the public along this new road of sustainable public transport system?

Investing more and more on highways undermines a good public transport system.

Let me end by highlighting two facts. First, the state government cannot dismiss this critical view of the Penang transport masterplan as that of an NGO opposing for the sake of opposition. Roger Teoh is a DAP member and his conclusions are based on hard scientific analysis that the DAP leadership can ignore at its own peril.

Second, my first contact with Roger Teoh was when he wrote in Malaysiakini (22 May 2016) to rebut my earlier article in Malaysiakini (18 May 2016) on why building more roads does not solve traffic congestion. However, after indepth research, and faced with new data, he revised his original position. At least we now agree on the fundamental fact that investing in a first class public transport system, and not roads, is the way forward. He has exhibited a hallmark of true scholarship.

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As John M Keynes once said, “When facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

Will the DAP leadership do the same? That is the challenge.

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  1. why not get angry? centrak gomen policy to help those in need and not doing well. since gilakan sg claim pg is not doing well and in need, why treat them with peanuts…? depend on who, who is gila to give so little after tax collection or pg lang gila to get short changed.

  2. Don’t get angry (depending on who you are angry) when you read this. Just use your vote of conscience:
    Answered: 12 questions on the Penang economy

    MP SPEAKS On Oct 19, 2016, in an effort to clear all doubts on my dispute with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng about the true picture of Penang’s the economic performance under DAP, I had requested the Penang Institute, a state-funded think tank, to answer 10 questions. Subsequently, I added two more questions, making it 12 in all.

    Since the Penang Institute and the Penang government have refused to answer any of my 12 questions for almost a month, I now give you the answers to my 12 questions.

    If my answers are not correct, I welcome Penang Institute to correct me. Alternatively, the Penang government is also welcome to sue me.

    I repeat that the DAP must stop engaging in political dishonesty and propaganda to cover-up or go into a self-denial mode of what the true economic situation in Penang is. The people on the ground in Penang are already sensing that something is wrong.

    On Monday, Lim said we should respect the rule that “whilst opinions are free, facts are sacred”.

    Well, these are the answers and these are the facts:

    Question 1: Between 2008 and 2015, what is the cumulative percentage growth in Penang’s GDP per capita and what position does it stand among all 16 states and territories of Malaysia?

    Answer: According to data given by Lim himself last month, it is 42.9 percent and Penang ranked third from bottom among 15 states and territories.

    Question 2: Between 2008 and 2015, what was the average GDP growth for Penang and what was the average GDP growth for Malaysia? Did Penang under-perform or over-perform Malaysia during this entire eight-year period?

    Answer: The average yearly GDP growth for Penang from 2008 to 2015 is 4.05 percent, which is an under-performance because the figure for Malaysia, as a whole, was 4.65 percent.

    This under-performance is further confirmed when you consider that Penang has become less important to Malaysia as its share of the national economy has dropped 25.5 percent.

    Penang’s share of the national economy was 8.83 percent in 2007 but under eight years of DAP rule, it has dropped to 6.57 percent.

    Question 3: Based on the figures released by Lim on Monday, is it true that at the end of 2007 – just two months before DAP took over the Penang govt on March 8, 2008 – the GDP per capita for Kuala Lumpur was RM18,306 more than Penang while the GDP per capita for Selangor was RM5,022 less than Penang?

    Is it also true that after eight years of DAP rule, at the end of 2015, the GDP per capita for Kuala Lumpur had widened to RM49,875 more than Penang while the GDP per capita for Selangor had narrowed by more than half to just RM2,236 less than Penang?

    Answer: True and true.

    Question 4: Based on official Department of Statistics figures, which was also quoted by Lim, we can confirm that when BN was in power in Penang, the state GDP growth for 2006 and 2007 was 10.8 percent and 6.5 percent respectively, while the GDP growth for 2014 and 2015 was eight percent and 5.5 percent – meaning that GDP growth in Penang in the last two years of BN rule was higher than in 2014 and 2015 under DAP rule?

    Answer: True. The average state GDP growth for the last two years of the Penang BN government’s rule is higher than in 2014 and 2015.

    Question 5: Using the same data, can you also confirm that the Penang GDP per capita growth for 2006 and 2007 was 10.4 percent and 5.93 percent respectively, while for 2014 and 2015 it was 9.5 percent and 6.5 percent – meaning, when taken as an average of the two-year periods, the state GDP per capita for 2006 and 2007 was higher than in 2014 and 2015?

    Answer: True. The average GDP per capita growth for the last two years of Penang BN government rule is higher than the last two years of 2014 and 2015.

    Question 6: In your Penang Institute article dated July 19, 2016, titled “Penang’s economy: GDP Growth Rates and 2016 Projection”, did you state that one of the top reasons for Penang’s better growth for 2015 (and possibly 2014) was due to “ringgit Malaysia has depreciated against US dollar. Therefore, Malaysian exports will be more competitive globally. With an export-orientated economy, Penang will benefit more than Malaysia”?

    If that is the case, is it true that on one hand, Lim and DAP frequently criticise the government when the ringgit is weak while taking credit for higher Penang state GDP growth for 2015?

    Answer: Both are true.

    Question 7: Based on the auditor-general’s report, what is the operating expense (perbelanjaan mengurus) for Penang in 2008 and what were the operating expenses in 2013, 2014 and 2015?

    Answer: In 2008, the operating expense was RM283 million, before increasing to RM832 million in 2013 and RM746 million in 2014, or about three to four times higher.

    The auditor-general has yet to release 2015 numbers for Penang. Perhaps the Penang government can share this with us?

    Question 8: What was the source of the increased revenue to fund these big increases in the Penang state government’s operating expenses? If the source of the increased revenue was due to sale of limited state assets, is selling limited state assets to fund a multiple-fold jump in operating expenses a sustainable business model?

    Answer: The source of revenue to cover the three-to-four times jump in Penang’s operating expenses is from a big jump in sale of limited state lands and state assets. A recent example was the sale of the Penang government’s long-held 49 percent stake in Pulau Jerejak last week.

    No. This is not a sustainable business model as the state will eventually run out of land and assets to sell, while its yearly expenses will remain high.

    Question 9: Lim has frequently used the figures for manufacturing investment from the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida) to claim that Penang is the top destination for investments in 2010 and 2011. What were the positions for Penang in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, based on the same source?

    Answer: Since being number one in 2011, Penang never regained top spot since and was sixth in 2012, fourth in 2013, third in 2014 and fifth in 2015.

    Question 10: Since 2011, Lim has continually boasted that he had reduced state debt by 95 percent, a reduction of about RM655 million. Was this debt reduction in 2011 due to surpluses from the operating budget of the state government or was it due to the federal government taking over billions of ringgit worth of Penang state water assets and converting the outstanding RM655 million loan to a 45-year annual lease payment of RM14.56 million per year – which works out to be the same amount?

    Answer: The above is true. It was the federal government that helped Penang reduce its state debt by 95 percent. This reduction was not due to increased surpluses from Penang to pay back its debt.

    Question 11: Is it true that Penang had registered the lowest median salary growth since 2009 among all 16 states and territories?

    Answer: Yes it is true that Penang is rock-bottom and was overtaken by Johor, Negeri Sembilan and Labuan.

    Question 12: Is it true that Penang had registered the fourth lowest median household income growth since 2010 among all 16 states and territories?

    Answer: Yes, it is true. Penang registered the fourth lowest median household income growth among 16 states and territories and was overtaken by Johor and Malacca.

    LIANG TECK MENG is the MP for Simpang Renggam and Gerakan secretary-general.

      • Freedom of Press. Paham kah?
        After that use one’s street level understanding to come to a personal conclusion.
        Otherwise, it’s no different from BeeEnd.

    • Liang Teck Meng writes regularly for China Press and he has only one agenda in mind i.e. To discredit DAP while brown-nosing his Umno master. Lately he is trying to exert his influence within Gerakan – with the hope of getting a ministerial position in BN(?) However most Chinese find him talking a lot without anything constructive. He could be preparing himself to contest in Penang as his Simpang Renggam seat is no longer safe in GE14. Penangites please beware of this guy.

  3. Another break news from GMT. Flood in newly built admin capital of country. No development but why flood suddenly. Where is our pg uni professor and those flood watch? How to eliminate flood in admin capital??

  4. break news and good news. fmt mentions komtar give additional money to seberang majilis to have a compound for strayed, mad and barking dogs. so animal lovers no complain about rabbies. but pg island urgently needs one to restrain most ferrious and loudest bark.

    • Berita Baik:
      Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang akan memberikan potongan sebanyak 6% cukai pintu untuk semua hartanah lain termasuk hartanah komersil, tahun 2017.

  5. highways are also needed to transport goods and x buses. from airport to town dont expect bus to make stops all they way. otherwise ond autcan reach india faster than reaching mt komtar. or to reach belum. efficient transport lower cost. singland using auto container loader. one man behinf ipad can control few machines.

    • Price hike one after another, while Ringgit is getting devalued each day.
      Rakyat didahulukan?

      Why should we wait till TN50?
      Bersih 5.0 is the way to go!

  6. Roger Teoh should write in at to share more of his PhD knowledge, likewise Dr Lim Mah Hui.
    Through exchanges then they will not be too academic in thinking but able to enhance their knowledge not learnt from books.

  7. “… only way to reduce car dependence is to build and improve on an urban rail system.”
    This is a lie, as BRT proves.

    There is nothing new about the discovery that reducing cars traffic is important and building more roads is useless. Only capitalist propaganda obsured this fact.

    In Scandinavia, they clear the bicycle paths of snow before clearing the car roads.

    China thought that “to be rich is glorious” and that cars were part of that goal. Now, 0.1% of its population are millionaires or billionaires. Unfortunately, their land, water and air is poisoned, and tens millions of children are growing up warped because their parents had to leave them behind in villages. Fortunately, their government is very serious about reversing this, in matters such as public transport, power generation and above all, corruption. Some people in cities are discovering that the Mao-era bicycles were not such a bad idea after all.

    • On highways, it depends whether it is a state or federal initiative. The LCE expressway is an example of state gov highway project.

      the 3 highways by Zenith and the Pan-Island Link under PTMP are all state gov initiatives

      • In down under. Commonwealth Gomen from gst collected distributed to various states and states planned according to needs. Highway can built by Commonwealth Gomen or states or state with funding from Commonwealth.

  8. Check up the newly redeveloped Bencoolen Street in Singapore for inspiration.

    When it reopens in the first quarter of 2017, Bencoolen Street will have more cyclist and pedestrian-friendly features in its “car-lite” plan. There will be sheltered linkways from the Downtown Line 3’s new Bencoolen MRT station, tree-lined footpath to nearby facilities and developments, such as Hotel Rendezvous and Manulife Centre. A new dedicated cycling path along Bencoolen Street will also connect Rochor Canal to the planned cycling route along the future North-South Corridor to the Central Business District. A total of 125 bicycle parking lots will be provided at various locations along the street, such as at the entrances of the new Bencoolen MRT station, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), V Hotel and Bayview Hotel.

  9. Wellington a population of 600K+ about the size of Penang Islanders, yet they have good ground bus system. At any moment, you can see a bus plying the street. Definitely convenient and cost way cheaper than driving own cars.

    • Pg gomen cannot issue bus, taxi, rail, ferry or lrt licence. They are all under gilakan Commonwealth Gomen. Why they practise cat, meow and meow whereas someone barking at wrong target


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