Walking around the city, I must say I have been impressed with Milan’s excellent network of underground trains, trams (old and modern), buses and taxies – though locals tell me there is still room for improvement.
But first, what’s this? Someone alerted me to a Penang monorail route map posted on Wikipedia. I am not sure who posted that entry:
“The Penang Monorail is a future monorail line to be constructed under the Ninth Malaysia Plan and Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER). It will be located on Penang Island. Two lines will be built, with possible extensions to Province Wellesley in the future. The 37km system is expected to cost RM 1.1 billion.
“The names of all the stations on the monorail are still mostly unknown, although the main stops are confirmed. The Red Line will run between Tanjung Tokong and the Penang International Airport via Scotland Road, Jalan Air Itam and the Penang State Mosque. The Green Line will run between Paya Terubong and Weld Quay Terminal, via Jalan Air Itam, Jalan Dato’ Keramat, and Komtar. The interchange will be situated at Jalan Air Itam.”
Before we plunge into an expensive monorail system, take a look at Milan’s trams:
For good reason, Milan has not opted for a monorail system and instead preferred trams. This heritage city and financial/fashion capital has 21 tramlines totalling close to 300km – apart from its Metro (underground train network) and buses. And no monorail. You could say, Milan knows a thing or two about style and elegance to match the historical city’s backdrop.
At the conference, I bumped into Angiolo Rosselli, a transport policy maker and consulting engineer, who told me he is going to be the next mayor of Milan.
I asked him for the pros and cons of a monorail system as opposed to a tram network.
He told me trams were cheaper to set up. On the other hand, he said a monorail might be cheaper to run as the trains need not have drivers, and carriages can be easily added on if passenger traffic rose. Some modern cities might actually prefer a monorail system.
I asked him what he would recommend for Penang. He said for heritage cities like Milan (and Penang), a tram network would be preferable as it would be at street level and blend in with the old buildings rather than having an overhead rail system marring the built heritage environment. (Milan’s streets are not much wider than George Town’s and the tram railtracks and stops are usually in the centre of the road.)
In Milan, passengers buy tickets before boarding the buses or trams at street level. The tickets are available at news vendors and shops. The drivers don’t bother looking at the tickets when passengers board. Instead, the passengers are supposed to “validate” their tickets by inserting them inside machines placed inside the buses/trams. Drivers are thus not burdened with ticket sales and this saves them a lot of time and hassle. Ticket inspectors randomly enter the buses/trams to check if passengers have proper validated tickets. Anyone not having a validated ticket is fined 36 euros (about RM170). It seems the inspections are rare – and the fine serves more as a deterrent.
A tram system need not be an antiquainted mode of transport. Take a look at Milan’s modern Eurotrams, which run alongside older models from the 19th century onwards. This combination of old and new trams makes the city a fascinating living public transport museum!
Rosselli wants to go even further. He wants to phase out private cars from Milan roads – by 2011, I think – perhaps looking to London’s Ken Livingstone for some inspiration. Brave man, trying to do this in the land of Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari!
For a start, he is talking about introducing a pollution charge imposed on older, less fuel-efficient vehicles. This would be based on the principle of “you pollute, you pay”.
I asked him what would happen to those with older cars who cannot afford to pay such a pollution charge.
He replied, too bad, they would have to use public transport. (That shows how important it is to have a good public transport system in place first.)
The next step, he says, would be to phase out vehicles that use diesel because he says diesel-powered vehicles are more polluting.
Finally, all private cars will be phased out from the city.
That set me thinking. Penang is going in the opposite direction! Instead of phasing out cars, we are putting in the infrastructure that will permanently ensure an ever-increasing number of private vehicles in the city. Think of the Penang Outer Ring Road, the second Penang Bridge, and even the thousands of additional (polluting) vehicle movements and all the road widening/flyover construction for the supposedly “Karbon 0” (what a joke!) Penang Global City Centre project.
If only we had visionary, environmentally conscious, far-sighted leaders with the political will to make tough decisons for the common good. If only…