From what I hear, a Penang transport masterplan is in the pipeline, with the state government believed to be working now on the terms of reference.
Once the TOR are finalised, an open tender is likely be held, perhaps in the second quarter of 2010, for the actual work of formulating the masterplan, which could take about a year to complete.
The emphasis of the plan is likely to be on sustainable transport. I hope the masterplan will try and wean people away from private vehicle ownership and encourage them to switch to public transport. In line with this, the focus of new infrastructure spending should be on public transport and pedestrian networks (and perhaps even cycling facilities) rather than new highways. The masterplan should also try and maximise the potential of water-based transport in the state.
This would be a golden opportunity for the Penang state government to do something quite different from the rest of Malaysia. Transport is a big issue in Penang, with many expressing frustration with traffic jams during school and public holidays.
If the state government can get this right and come up with a viable sustainable transport masterplan, it would enhance Penang’s green credentials and help us reduce our carbon footprint.
The big question now is, would the Penang Outer Ring Road and other new highways be part of the masterplan, or can we think of more sustainable alternatives? These alternative could perhaps involve the greater use of buses (bus rapid transit?) or other alternatives that are cost-effective and more environmentally friendly, with seamless integration between various modes of transports.
We need to be creative and think of alternatives, bearing in mind the need to curb the increasing congestion in the state (more highways, which assume higher private vehicle ownership, would contribute to congestion), the declining global and domestic supply of oil (which will lead to higher oil prices in the future), and rising greenhouse gas emissions (that is causing climate chaos).
Combined with other initiatives such as campaigns to reduce the use of plastic bags and to promote the use of biodegradable food containers for Thaipusam and other festivals (and next, how about a campaign to improve our food security and self-sufficiency and to go into renewable energy in a big way?), Penang could really lead the rest of the country and even the region as a centre for green, sustainable initiatives.
If we go down this road, then we could put ourselves on the regional map as a showcase of what is possible in terms of sustainable development, much like how it has put the spotlight on the Brazilian city of Curitiba in South America.
Not only would we be enhancing the quality of life of Penangites, we would also be doing our bit to save the planet. Now that would be something to be proud of.