Thank God for the “mega setback” to Penang infrastructure projects


Today, I just want to thank God for confounding the proponents of the mega transport projects in Penang and delaying them (just like he confounded those pushing for the PGCC project). The bridge partners are now arguing about cost apportioning and design costs – and the project hasn’t even started! Porr, on the other hand, has not even got off the ground after years of inaction while the monorail salesmen are busy trying to convince the Penang government that the overhead train is the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel.

All these multibillion projects may not be in the best interest of the state and of ordinary Penangites. Think about this:

Fact No. 1 – The oil price today is US$116 per barrel (for dated Brent Spot) – and we can expect the upward trend to continue. Can you imagine how much the petrol will cost just to go up and down the bridge in say 10 years? And let’s not even talk about the toll.

Fact No. 2 – World oil production is close to a peak and it is increasingly more difficult and more expensive to find new oil reserves. Production will not be able to keep pace with demand.

Fact No. 3 – Malaysia will become a net importer of oil within a few years and our oil reserves may not last more than a generation.

Fact No. 4 – The roads of Penang are already congested. In fact, Penang Island already has a higher traffic density than Singapore even though Singapore has about 5-6 times the population of Penang Island. How much more traffic can it absorb before it becomes a living hell?

Fact No. 5 – The ferry service today is operating at half the capacity compared to the late 1970s. The old ferry terminal on the mainland which collapsed was never rebuilt. No wonder the ferry service does not have the economies of scale that it once did. No wonder there is so much congestion on the bridge.

Fact No. 6 – Climate change and global warming are here to stay.

Fact No. 7 – More cost effective alternatives have not been considered.

With this in mind, it is amazing that our “planners” want to take us down the (tolled!) path of unsustainable transport infrastructure projects that promote private vehicle ownership and more fossil fuel consumption and which will lead to congestion, pollution and global warming.

Let’s tot up the bill for going down this unsustainable path:

Second Penang Bridge – RM4.3 billion (UEM is said to have come up with a figure of RM4.8 billion!)*
Penang Outer Ring Road – RM1.1 billion
Monorail – RM3.5 billion

Total cost: RM8.9 billion

Allowing for further cost escalations, say a total of RM10 billion at least.

* This cost is probably inflated, as one expert told me that material costs for the second bridge should not exceed a billion ringgit – RM2 billion at most. Even The Edge business weekly in its cover story this week suspects that the RM4.3 billion figure could be inflated.

With a fraction of that RM10 billion total bill, we could do wonders for public transport – and other social spending – in Penang.

What could we do with say RM3-4 billion?

  • Expand the ferry service and build more ferry terminals at different locations
  • Introduce trams
  • Build a cross-channel rail link perhaps alongside the Penang Bridge

The Penang state government’s new high-powered team for the second bridge should shift its focus to public transport for the whole state.

It is incredible that we can even think of mega transport projects when we haven’t even come up with a transport masterplan for the state that would promote public transport. We haven’t even considered the implications for traffic and the environment in the state.

Why the hurry to spend billions before thoroughly studying the situation and looking at feasibility studies? In the first place, why even borrow US$800 million from China to finance the second bridge? And where are the EIA reports?

We still have time to do some proper planning before throwing away billions – which ordinary Penangites will have to bear for years.

In the meantime, expand the ferry service. That should immediately reduce congestion on the bridge.

And then let’s consider ALL the alternatives which would include an improved bus service, trams, ferries and a cross-channel rail link. Come up with an integrated masterplan and don’t work on a piece-meal, ad hoc basis.

Penangites cannot make an informed choice if we have not considered all the various options thoroughly and listened to the views of the best public transport experts from around the world (ie those who do not have any vested interests in infrastructure projects). Why not invite public transport experts from cities with excellent public transport to tell us how they reduced their traffic nightmares at a fraction of the cost?

The good thing about promoting public transport is that it will create more long-term local jobs. Think of the construction of new ferries and ferry terminals, assembling of buses, laying of rail tracks for trams, more ferry pilots, ferry crew, tram drivers, bus drivers, admin staff, maintenance personnel…

It will lead to less stress and congestion on the roads as pedestrians and cyclists reclaim the streets. It will also be a lot more sustainable and spark more economic activity in the town centres as the experience of other cities with excellent public transport amply demonstrates.

Wouldn’t you want to live in a charming heritage city where you could walk past old shophouses along the tree-lined streets in town, use efficient public transport that won’t cost an arm and a leg, sip a drink at a road-side cafe and watch the world go by without choking from the fumes of passing vehicles? I know I would.

Do you really think those boys in Putrajaya share this vision of Penang? Do you think they care about the environmental consequences?

In a sense, we are at a crossroads. Penang is in a unique position to do something different – something sustainable, environmentally friendly and people and pedestrian friendly – which could be the talking point of the region. If we go down the wrong road, I don’t even want to think of the consequences. It will be the end of Penang as we know it.

Anyone up for a ‘Bloggers for Trams’ in Penang campaign?

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Fender Stratocaster

Anil I am totally in support of your suggestion on how to spend Rm3-4billion to improve the transportation service. Firstly, the suggestion to expand the ferry service and to increase the existing numbers of terminals is an excellent idea. Allow me to suggest that the ferry service should be upraded to better and bigger ferries to give an air of comfort for users. The new terminals should be planned in such a way that it is also a tourist draw as well as for locals to ‘lepak’. What this means is that the terminal itself can be planned as a… Read more »

Moaz Yusuf Ahmad


You have my support in any campaign for improved public transport. Whether it turns out to be tram or subway or bus or BRT does not matter right now.

Looking at technology is premature right now.

What does matter is that there is a plan, that this plan is based on realistic numbers, and the plan will prepare us for the next 10 years and beyond.

Cheers, Moaz Yusuf Ahmad


Dear Tuan Sher

I am not the only one in favour of trams. But you are free to agree or disagree.

Ric himself has been advocating a return of trams in Penang.

Perhaps you might care to look into why the historical and heritage City of Edinburgh is putting up a modern tram system in a big way. Its streets are not any wider than Penang’s.

Check out this link:

Outdated? Think again.

best wishes


dont be so sure oil has hit its peak, $200 per barrel may happen, get ready for a financial crash


BTW, Anil, can you please tell our …CM that we don’t need that monorail thing. It just won’t work for Penang. With the MAX capacity of ferrying 16K people per hour, which we can do with an additional 300 buses, we ought not spend 2.2 billion on the monorail. Rather, we should get a subway system that has a max capacity of more than 200K passengers per hour, PER TRACK, PER LINE. (For example, East-west bound line – from Paya Terubong to Ferry Terminal – can have up to 4 tracks, two on each ways, so they can stop at… Read more »


Kah Seng, please DO NOT compare HK with Penang.

HK is made up of SEVERAL ISLANDS, and the mainland (san gai)

Penang, however, is made up of ONE main island, and the mainland (Prai)

HK needs boats, because of the several island. Penang, we can do away with the ferry, because we have but one main island which can be hooked up with bridges or tunnels to the mainland.

I worked in HK too, on assignments. I’m as familiar with HK as you are, Kah Seng. So there’s no comparison, okay?

Tuan Sher

Dear Anil, do you stand for the truth and fair comment? i cannot understand why you lead a one track campaign for trams. Trams were removed from Penang because they FAILED in Penang.Its in the book by Vic himself.You dont invite nor appreciate transport experts opinions , in fact your followers chide and ridicule them . this makes your blog quite irresponsible , just like main stream media that we deplore. This new era is about constructive debate rather than traditional one sided views being pumped into you daily by MSM You are turning into what you despise one sided… Read more »

John Lim

Hi Anil, I fully support your analysis on why we shouldn’t rush into the second bridge project. The brain dead Putrajaya goons are not bothered about the consequences Penangites have to endure as long as they receive their massive kickbacks. The solution is a total re-invent of the Ferry services & a pararell rail link on the present bridge to the island with efficient public transportation. The total cost would be 50% off the projected 10 billion & great savings to the State Govt & Penangites in general, but those with vested interest would not be happy as they watch… Read more »


Hi Anil, Now that you have toted up a figure of RM10,billion, I can think of many ways to spend that type of money. Given the assumptions on higher petrol price in the near future, there would be less cars on the roads, considering that the majority might not be able to afford the cost.The new highways might be rendered useless as there would be less traffic to cater for. It is more essiential that public transport be enhanced rather than cater for more traffic congestion. I have seen that affluent cities cater for pedestrians with covered walkways assisted by… Read more »


Thanks for the your posts on the need for greener alternatives for Penang. I need no convincing as I’m totally with you on Penang setting the precedent as a city with sustainable goals. I fail to comprehend why we are pursuing a policy that adds dependency on a finite non-renewable resource at a time when its scarcity is a constant reminder.

Kah Seng

Ferry is still needed and useful in this fast pace life. Hong Kong, eg, has many ferry routes plus hovercrafts on the busy harbour and outlying islands. Ferry supplement other modes of transport. When I worked there, I use a combination of ferry, plus mini bus, subway, double-decker bus, tram, taxi, and walk for work and fun.

jeffrey chew

Count me in bloggers for trams!


Everyone, write to Penang state government by email:


I think the Penang CM have to call for a new open tender as there are plenty of construction company around in Asia and I have sure the pricing can tie back to the original price or maybe lower and who know this will save the public money
and also give the BN a slap in their face.
Penang CM, please do something to show that you can do it.


The Fed Govt put on hold the mega projects not because they are not feasible but out of spite. When did they start listening to the rakyat? They cannot cancel the 2nd bridge because it has been commited to China and there are some political ramifications. Otherwise the bridge would be cancelled to. So while some quarters “celebrate” the Fed Govt moves, let us also question their ethics too. Let us not “support” the Fed Govt decisions for the wrong reasons. Already, they are not going to fund some of the tourism promotion events slated for this year.

Angguk2 Geleng2 Saya2

The more bridging more merrier for Penang.MNC’s Investure’s looking for the most convenient and easiest way to transport their products,expatriate and etc,.
Look like the Southern City State of Singapore,their government more than 100% in daily basis always try find ways to make good of their infrastructure’s system just for the sake to please the so-called tai-tai investure’s and undisputable it’s proven fruitful.Can Penangan’s do what like what their so-called big brother in the south do that?


Fully agree with your comments. In fact I have written about the same comments to a MP in Penang. I am not a Penangite and I loathe to go to Penang because of the traffic congestion. The last trip I was in Penang was 5 years ago and it was already congested then. I have travelled extensively overseas and find their public transportation user friendly to tourist and locals alike. I am a strong advocate in bringing the tram system as it is relatively cheaper to build, maintain and run.



Smooth traffic -> less than 1 hour
Slow traffic -> 1 and half hours
Jam -> maybe 2 hours.
Super Jam -> Unlimited…


I don’t know where you guys resite or how often you cross the bridge. But I travel on it everyday and I strongly think that we do need the 2nd bridge.

Traveling time from Tambun (Prai) to Georgetown (Island)
Smooth traffic -> 1 and half hours.
Jam -> maybe 2 hours.
Super Jam -> Unlimited…

Anak Malaysia

Anil, Thanks for the update on “setback” to Penang’s mega projects. As I mentioned in my comments to your previous copy “Watch out! They are still talking about monorail and Porr.” Penang does not need all those mega projects, Penang does not need to go into projects which will leave the state with a 10billion ringgits MEGA HEAD ACHE. Penang does not want to be suckered into all these projects so that some greedy pigs go home rubbing their greedy fingers at the massive “Commissions” that they will get for the deals. I would nor even ask the PR Govt… Read more »


The first city in The Malay Archipelago, Province Wellesley
and the likes of it. Maintain the serenity and don’t let the hounds of greed ravish this Pearl Of The Orient. Well to start of bring back the Free Port status.


Lets be honest about it. All the infrastructure projects announced before PRU 12 by BN were awarded to GLCs and its cronies without any tender being called. Try open tender and you will be surprised that the costs would be slashed by half. I am from Johor Bahru and extremely impressed with the efficiency of the Singapore Government. Penang should emulate and adopt their system. Clean, efficient, tranparent, progressive and corruption free. Their public transportation is so efficient and user friendly. For your information, many personnel manning and operating the public transportation system are Malaysian! Sad indeed right? Penang, being… Read more »

selvaraja somiah

Yes, i have been on this line of thinking all along and I agree with you Anil that the setback is Divine Intervention.

The only reason as far as I can see for the 2nd Penang Bridge is to fill the pockets of the UMNOputras at the expense of all Penangites.


Penang does not need a second bridge, it needs Hoovercrafts to supplement the ferries. I was discussing this with friend, look at the video clip below. The Penang State Government should start thinking out of the box. The Brits phased it out as they had built a tunnel from Britain to France for the Channel crossing. The Channel is 21 mi (34 km) wide between Dover and Cape Gris-Nez, near Calais. The Penang bridge is around 13 kms, give or take. The guys who plan to commence a year-round ferry project between the mainland and Penang in the year 2010… Read more »


Original 2nd bridge was supposed to be connecting Tj. Tokong and Bagan Ajam which is much shorter distance apart. Even Samy Vellu was furious when it was changed because when the plan changes, you don’t get your share. Obviously building of the 2nd bridge comes together with the personel interest of BN leaders and cronies while Penangites emerge as the eventual loosers.