My short vacation in Penang – using public transport

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Our guest writer today is Azlan Yaacob, who recently visited Penang with his family. Commendably, they decided to use public transport throughout their trip here – and he shares with us their experience. From this, you can see we have an interchange problem especially from the railway station to the ferry terminal. More can be done to make the passenger experience on the ferries pleasant.

Azlan is involved in developing low-carbon economies and innovation development, particularly clean technology and sustainable precision agriculture.

Dear readers

My family of four were in Penang during the recent Hari Raya Haji holidays, from Wednesday, 22 August (Hari Raya Haji Day) to Saturday. This is the second time we decided not to drive to Penang for our regular short vacation visits. My mother-in-law lives in Tanjung Bungah, and we see her almost twice a year.

In the past, we would drive and regardless of how we planned our trip (near major public holidays), it was still a 7-9-hour crawl along the North-South Highway (even the day after Raya or two days after Sunday, does not matter; it is still at least seven hours of being in the car). And once we reached Penang, we had to endure more congestion, and we were constantly looking for parking.

We made a visit earlier in the year without a car (took a flight, a bit pricey), and we marvelled at the ease of getting a Grab when moving around to our favorite makan places. My brother-in-law, who brought his car, was always 10 minutes late arriving to our destination. This revelation convinced me that Penang is best visited without a car.

This time around, we wanted to try many different modes of transport and not just depend on Grab.

On Wednesday, we took the 11.25am KTM ETS Platinum train from KL Sentral to Butterworth. The train was clean, efficient, and on time. The toilet was also clean. Food was available, which was reasonably priced (less than RM10 for mee mamak, nasi lemak, etc).

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The best part of being on a train was that we could just do whatever we wanted. My youngest son would read his books, while we would surf the internet. Once in a while, we would just chat about things. Or take a nap. The train ride at 120km/h was quite stable and I would stretch my legs by walking from one end to the other. Stress free, it is the best way to travel.

Once the train stopped at the Butterworth station, we decided to take the ferry. Some renovation work still being done, and we could not walk straight to the Penang Sentral facility. We had to take a shuttle bus, but unfortunately the pathway was not properly designed. We had to skip over several small barriers, and it was a short wait before we got on the bus.

The bus, however, was packed with people and luggage; it was a bit cumbersome. The bus had all sorts of people – foreign tourists, foreign workers, and local Malaysians – either traveling on their own or with family. (I learned that the Penang Sentral access from the train station would be ready in December 2018 and this would make the experience much better).

Once we reached the ferry terminal, we had to go through a sort of maze, and it was a mad scramble for tickets. The waiting area was crammed and once full, it felt like we were packed like sardines. No lines were formed; just a free for all. The ferry was also late, by the way. On the notice board, the ferry was suppose to arrive at 4.10pm, but it only arrived at 4.30pm.

I was keen to be on the ferry. I had lots of wonderful childhood and teenage memories of the ferry. I was born in Penang in 1966, and I went to school in Kedah. Penang was a place I visited regularly in the 1980s. But I was soon to be disappointed with the ferry journey because I had to share the top floor space with cars. There was no place to sit, and we had to make do with leaning over the railings. But having a car next to you, with a warm engine, was not pleasant.

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Once we arrived at the George Town side, we decided to take a Grab. One arrived within a minute, and off we went to the Hotel Flamingo in Tanjung Bungah.

We would take Grab almost every time we wanted to visit our favorite makan places, and it was always a three-minute wait. This was fantastic because in KL, Grab drivers would sometimes cancel on you. But it has never happened in Penang, at least to us.

On Friday, we decided to visit Taman Negara Penang. We took the Rapid Penang bus number 101, and it was a very short wait before the bus arrived. It was about 10am and the bus was full of Western tourists. The majority of them were like us; they all wanted to visit Taman Negara. The bus was clean and comfortable; the driver would shout out the names of major stops and this helped the Western tourists looking to disembark along the way.

On our way back, we waited for the bus, but it took a little bit longer, maybe 20 minutes. This time, we had many different tourists, both foreign and locals. I spotted Westerners, Arabs, Thais. The locals were a mixed group. The bus proved popular because along the way we would pick up many passengers, a mixed group of locals and Westerners plus local foreign workers. The bus was practically full.

The cost for one person on the 101 bus was RM2 for one way (Hotel Flamingo to Taman Negara). For the four of us, RM16 both ways. The Taman Negara visit was free.

I was made aware that there has been some debate with regard to building new highways in Penang, to ease traffic congestion. I do not live in Penang, and I am not in a position to comment about the merits of having new highways. I can only comment on how my visit went, and where I believe Penang can develop solutions to the methods of moving people around Penang.

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Firstly, Penang should look at ‘institutionalising’ ride hailing services and incorporate it as part of the transport fabric. Perhaps target both local and foreign tourists. During holidays, encourage local tourists to not bring their cars, and instead use ride-hailing services. The state government could augment such services with small buses or perhaps provide a form of subsidy for those who are interested to be Grab service providers. Maybe a special temporary scheme during peak holiday periods.

Secondly, I think the bus model could work if the frequency is increased. I heard of bus rapid transit (BRT) as a possible solution, and instead of having a dedicated BRTlane, have a semi-dedicated lane that ends in an area where ride-hailing could augment the experience. Or better yet, reintroduce a more nimble mini-bus model where people could be moved more speedily. More studies should be done here.

Thirdly, and this may be the most important part, it is time Penang dwellers reduce their dependency on private vehicles. If the bus service is consistent, and not too full (you still would want a seat), then people could perhaps plan ahead. In KL, the MRT is a clear winner with early adopters with cars (like me), who would now use it more frequently especially when meetings are planned ahead. Mind you, I still own a car, but I use it less (about 30%).

Lastly, I think more can be done with Butterworth as part of relieving congestion on Penang Island. If the ferry services are more efficient, and designed for pedestrians, there could also be a development plan to make Butterworth tourist friendly. Food for thought. I also visited parts of Butterworth, and there is a sort of understated potential. New makan places?

I do hope that my sharing of experience could be useful to others who are keen to visit Penang without a car and to those who are active in city planning especially with regard to transport issues. I feel that the future is somehow tied to a digital service that would make vehicle assets more visible to potential users.

Warmest regards
Azlan Yaacob

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Aaron Wee
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Aaron Wee

The Penang policy makers and RapidPenang must listen to the users of public transport edpecially buses in order to make improvement. Unfortunately many of them are car drivers and cannot empatise with the plight of bus users.

Jong Nam
Guest
Jong Nam

It took an outsider to point out the limitations of Penang public bus system. How shameful to the locals.

I guess most local folks do not take public bus for reasons we all know.
Meanwhile the local authority never bother to find ways to address the shortcomings, prefer the status quo while those NGOs prefer to protest repeatedly on PIL without offering suggestions to improve the current system and encourage more ridership.

Shriek
Guest
Shriek

Not only pg but orso kl with it’s bmw

Phyllis
Guest
Phyllis

But the NGOs still do not realise that most Penangites especially the young generation do not want to take public bus. So LRT practically will no succeed.

glissantia
Guest
glissantia

Sadly, the conned public even pays for their cars, driver, petrol, taxes, repairs. Every new tuan must get a new car of sufficient “standard” – no “national” car will do. After 5 years or so, it must be replaced. You never hear of insufficient funds for this at any level of gomen.

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

After 5 years or so, it must be replaced.
This is the super-profiteering way of car industry. They see 2nd hand cars as a threat to their greed. Excuses as accident prone of older cars are just excuses – the drivers are the main causes of accidents.
Short life cycle of 5 years on the road makes car manufacturers, car sales agent & insurance companies laugh 24/7/365 their dream comes true.

Shriek
Guest
Shriek

Ah pek, same as computers, software smart phones. After 3 years if you want to repair, they tell you to put to your museum.

Kumiro
Guest
Kumiro

People want upgrade to maintain style and status.
Also things today not built to last.

Rapid Rapid Rapid
Guest
Rapid Rapid Rapid

A typical new decent car costs RM80K, use for 5 years salvage resale value of RM30K lets say. So 5 years opportunity cost of RM50K meaning one year depreaciates RM10K. Plus maintenance and insurance and hire purchase installment cost and patrol, you spend at RM1.5K a month.
Also leave carbon footprints on earth jeorpadise the environment.
Use RapidPenang monthly unlimited travel got own driver some more much less than RM80 a month.
Money saved go enjoy quality food and health supplements.

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

Right on! But some blokes rather pay (insanely) for bin-chui!
More desperate copycat shrieking to come!

Phyllis
Guest
Phyllis

Now China-made products you lucky if it lasts 2 years.
Don’t expect good quality like Japanese goods.

Shriek
Guest
Shriek

When did pg gomen own any buses? Pg gomen has to pay rapid millions per year for CAT services. Under umno, central gomen control buses, taxi etc

Shriek
Guest
Shriek

What can pg gomen do when rapid is under former umno gomen? Pg gomen asked for more buse. More buses but length of roads unchanged. This means or congestion. So pg gomen has to add more roads for more buses. But pg lang never blame themselves. The ridership is only 60% full. This means after peak hours of going and after work, the ridership is 40%.
Pg lang so smart asking to go private. Who wants to lose ££££? Only thing is to cut service. Tunglang kau beh kau bu over 50 mins wait for buses.

Emery
Guest
Emery

It took an outsider to remind Penangites.
But most Penangites still prefer to drive, thus highway will serve them.

Alfred
Guest
Alfred

Penang Forum ought to engage bus users like Azlan to understsnd the shortcomings of the current public bus system and propose new ways for improvement.

But Penang Forum folks prefer confrontational approach to protest til no end. Sigh!

Norman
Guest
Norman

In the northern Italian town of Bologna, a new public transport system is rewarding citizens for taking sustainable modes of transport. Each time locals walk or use the bus, train, car pooling or car sharing, they receive ‘mobility points’, which can be cashed in at cafes, cinemas, bars, bookshops and a number of other locations across the city.

BBC explores the social and environmental benefits of taking Bologna’s residents out of their cars and onto the streets, moving about the city in a greener way in this podcast:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06jmgpp

Shriek
Guest
Shriek

He is just a tourist with plenty of time. Tourist wants to go slow slow, look look and see see. Best way is by public bus. Same if one is a tourist in a new place. One travel off peak using public transport. Who wants to rush with workers going or coming back from work? Even ah pek kau beh kau bu over bus coming 50 mins late during off peak.

Salwi
Guest
Salwi

At home he could be driving like most Malaysians. Bus only for tourists?

Richie
Guest
Richie

Malaysians like cars, from young play car models grow up fast and furious with female models as driving companions.

Please do something YB Sim
Guest
Please do something YB Sim

No sustainable library at Bayan Baru, but disrupted to become a crystal showroom!

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

YB Sim, where are your ears? Deaf?

Norman
Guest
Norman

YB Sim is the Strategy Director from Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), according to Wikipedia.

He must have the strategy (and wisdom and compassion too) to promote reading by having a library at his Bayan Baru constituency. Old folks can read newspapers there, saving newspaper money for a cup of kopi o, while enjoying the air-cond as the weather is hot nowadays. How about getting that Crystal company to sponsor?

jaya
Guest
jaya

I been traveling from northern part of island to southern for over 12 years now, which normally take 40-60 minutes drive; used to own motorbike before this lar.. it normally takes … 20 minutes just drive out of Free Trade Zone not because we need a super highway instead roads are poorly layout in island. About this Penang Masterplan, they are joking right .. they going to create massive bottleneck like in Ayer Itam. The dumb government should focus on easing life of Ayer Itam folks on commute time instead of GURNEY where E&O lives and growing. I own three… Read more »

steve
Guest
steve

Previously it was difficult to get the BN Putrajaya to approve more rapid buses and routes for Penang state. Now with a PH government surely we can improve our BRT. If rapid cannot cope with it, please privatise and license companies and individuals to operate minibuses and reserve dedicated lanes for them through congested roads during evening rush hours.

Kumiro
Guest
Kumiro

Other states lagi terror got bas pajak.

tunglang
Guest
tunglang

The most discouraging aspect of RapidPenang is the waiting time which is unpredictable (not to schedule) & bus run time which is selectively managed ie running fewer buses during off-peak period resulting in longer waiting for bus riders. It can take as long as 50 minutes if one waits for RapidPenang bus 201, 202, 203, 502 from town to Paya Terubong. The ride itself is nothing to complain except for a few Rapid drivers who habitually slam the brakes or ‘take-off + jerk’ the buses at every bus stop before embarking passengers could settle on the seats. The wai lao… Read more »

Warren
Guest
Warren

You should forward your feedback directly to RapidPenang.
I don’t think Anil can convey your views to RapidPenang, as he has previously failed to channel the Request for Bayan Baru library to that Minister Sim.

Phaik Ngoh
Guest
Phaik Ngoh

It shows that Sim is failing his constituency after being elected as minister. Now he is also busy campaigning for Anwar’s return (desperate indeed given the rising popularity of Tun M) so no time to fulfil Bayan Baru residents’ wishes for a library, not a crystal showroom.

Kumiro
Guest
Kumiro

He already got 2 term can get good penchen so no care for people but his boss Anwar.

shriek
Guest
shriek

You think setting up a library is eating kachang puteh similar to buying a car? You need the running and maintenance cost. Where to get ££ every month for rest of life? Air cond, rent, cleaning, workers, toilets, daily newspapers, new books, software to track and remind readers to return and you to boirrow books. Who wants to work during weekends as what is the library if open from 8 to 5. To be true library, the closing hours can be 8pm to allow workers to use the library

Jabil Selamat
Guest
Jabil Selamat

Sim and Saifudhin are elected members of Parliment for Bayan Baru areas, and upon elected they have failed to serve the needs of a library to human capital development.

I think Sim now being agriculture focus with his portfolio so he may be want your children to grow potatoes as farmers instead of picking new skills at library.

Phyllis
Guest
Phyllis

Why is it so difficult to provide a library for the people?

Meanwhile the local government can approve so many Pusan Hiburan Keluarga for young folks to waste time GG computer internet games.

shriek
Guest
shriek

Ah pek, if bus can be late, so is the tram as they share the road with others. You can be assured the lrt are punctual. Lrt can carry your bike.

Shriek
Guest
Shriek

Ah pek, that is why you must go for light rail. They can carry our bike easily as all passengers need not to wait for you to load and unload daisy bike. They come and arrive on time. They will not raise your and all passengers blood pressure. If fact the lower your bp. No jerking like 4wd.

Kumiro
Guest
Kumiro

Azlan come Penang take bus.
Go back home state drive car like most malaysians.
Talk is easy. Protest also easy.