Rapid Penang is working together with the Penang state government to implement its proposal for a shuttle bus service across the Penang Bridge from the mainland to the island during peak hours.
If the connections are done right with seamless ticketing, the plan could be a major boost for public transport in Penang and usher in a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for the state. It would also be a fine example of federal-state cooperation – though I maintain that Rapid Penang, like all other transport modes in the state, should eventually come under the state government’s purview (in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity that local affairs are best planned and implemented locally).
Rapid Penang also has plans to introduce double-decker buses latest next year. See Star report here.
The bridge shuttle bus plan was revealed in the Kwong Wah newspaper. The following is an English translation of the report in Chinese (thanks to a kind soul for the translation):
No need to drive to and fro between Penang and Seberang Perai everyday – that is no longer a dream! Best （Bridge Express Shuttle Transit） bus services will ply between Penang island and Seberang Perai from next year onwards. In an exclusive interview with Kwong Wah daily, PTC chairman Chow Kon Yeow confirmed that the Penang state government and Rapid Penang will implement Best services early next year, especially during peak hours providing work trips for those who work in the factories. Chow said the service not only would ease traffic flow from Butterwort side to Penang industrial zones, it would help reduce expenditure on transport and increase factory investment on the island.
Chow said, “It is understood that about 70% of daily Penang Bridge users are from the Butterworth side going to the industrial zones of Penang Island. Therefore, the Government and Rapid penang will once again work together to provide express transit services, to provide work trips for commuters from several sites in Seberang Perai to the industrial zones of Penang Island.
Chow said that there are in fact factory buses catering for factory operators, so Best is targeting the management and technical staff of factories who now drive to work daily. “We have delineated several locations for parking purposes in Seberang Perai; Rapid Penang will pick up the commuters and transfer them to their factory to work.”
Chow said there are two peak-hour bridge crossings a day, from 6.00am to 9.00am and 4.00pm to 7.00pm; every five minutes there will be a trip to and fro; each time there is expected to be 10 buses in service. Preliminary delineation of parking locations include Sunway shopping mall, Ampang Jajar, the open space next to the bridge and the Seberang Perai Expo.
It is understood that during morning peak hours, there are a lot private vehicles using the Penang Bridge to go to the Penang Island industrial zones. On rainy days, motorists need an early departure to avoid congestion. And every day during rush hours, the traffic on Penang Bridge slows down. Every Friday or on rainy days, the situation gets more serious: traffic is reduced to a crawl, and a long queue of vehicles can even extend to Batu Maung. Normally, it would take just 15 minutes from the industrial area to enter the Penang Bridge, but when traffic is bad it can take nearly an hour to enter the bridge.
According to the statistics provided by Penang Bridge Sdn Bhd, each day there is a total of 71,000 vehicles of various types using the bridge, of which about 5,000 are during the morning peak hour work trips to the Penang Island industrial zones; private cars account for more than 2,000.
During the evening peak hour return trips, there are about 5,100 vehicles of various types use the bridge to leave the island, of which 2,000 are private cars. In addition, during the evening peak hours, there are 4,700 vehicles of various types entering the Penang Island.
Chow Kon Yeow said he also saw another problem, namely, there would be problems for commuters going out for lunch or for other purposes as it would not be as convenient for them as before.
“To solve this problem, we plan to provide trips between Bukit Jambul and the industrial zones to enable commuters to choose this route for lunch or for other services.”
He said the State Government hoped that through the Best programme, traffic congestion during peak hours could be reduced tremendously, so that road users can avoid the problem of traffic congestion.
Chow Kon Yeow said Best services initially would be provided free for the public to use, with parking fee exemptions to encourage more people to use public transport.
He said in order for public transit to be successful, “public transit should be faster and more convenient than the private car (your buses must be faster than cars)”, so I hope in the trial period the public will gain confidence in public transit.
He elaborated further that if office workers in the industrial areas currently spend about 350 ringgit a month on toll fees and petrol, the reduced overheads with public transit would be significant. “After the trial, Best will provide a monthly pass with discount to encourage commuters to use the services.”
The Best programme would not only benefit industrial zone workers, the reduction in space allotted for parking lots would give factories more space to expand and add more production lines.
Chow Kon Yeow said that after the implementation of the Best programme, if the parking place for each factory could be reduced by 15 per cent, “I believe there will be a significant amount of space for future expansion and more production lines, thus increase the factory’s yearly revenue”. He said currently each factory must provide a large parking space area for employees, thus depriving them of the land for further expansion.
“Now, in the industrial areas, the useable lots are getting less and less, the price of land is getting very expensive; it is hoped that Best will benefit the factories and improve their revenue.”
The Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport in Malaysia, Chang Kah Loon, strongly agree with the state government’s move to provide the Best service, because it can achieve the idea of moving people not cars.
However, he said, the state government could be complement the Best programme with several other plans so that Best could work more smoothly and avoid falling into a “powerless” dilemma.
“The state government can promote a ‘Public Transport Day’ to encourage people to use public transport. Because office workers do not have the habit of using public transit to work, the ‘public transport day’ could be used to enhance public confidence in public transport. ”
In addition, he said the state government could also use word-of-mouth to encourage more people to use public transport.
“The state Government and Penang Rapid can work together with various associations and invite the management and technical staff of all factories to use public transport and let them experience and gain confidence in public transport.”