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?