On Sunday, while I was waiting for someone outside a mall in mainland Penang, I observed the throngs of people arriving to shop or hang out with friends.
What surprised me was how many people alighted from what looked like Uber or Grab cars. They were mostly young people – both male and female, three or four in a car – or entire families.
There is no doubt that this phenomenon has changed the dynamics and projections of what we can expect in the future. Perhaps more young people and retirees (most likely, we will see an ageing population in the future) won’t need a car of their own especially if fuel, insurance costs, and car prices continue to rise.
Now that SRS Consortium’s shopping list of massive transport spending, to be funded by land reclamation totalling 4,500 acres, is in limbo – no one knows when or if these plans will receive federal approvals – it is time to go back to the drawing board and look at more sustainable and affordable alternatives.
A good starting point would be the original Halcrow transport masterplan – minus what the state government wanted the consultants to include (eg the tunnel). This masterplan looked at measures that could be introduced in the near future apart from outlining a system of bus rapid transit and elevated or segregated-lane trams.
Going back to the drawing board would also mean working more closely with RapidPenang to expand the bus system, especially introducing feeder buses (for the last mile in housing areas), bus lanes and more flexible and affordable bus season tickets. Now that RapidPenang is taking over the Penang ferry operations – after they were discarded by the privatised Penang port operators – Rapid could better integrate its buses with the ferry services. Yes, the number of ferries and their frequency must be increased. Perhaps coastal ferry services could be introduced too.
We also have to figure out how Uber, Grab and future ride-sharing modes fit into this whole model.
The Penang Transport Council has rarely met this year. Not that it mattered as basically, the state government is aligned to the SRS shopping list of mega projects. The longer the federal government takes to approve the SRS plans, the more time we have to come up with an alternative vision of sustainable mobility for Penang.
So we have a window of opportunity to call for a more credible transport blueprint. Let’s make use of it.