Does Penang have a more enlightened sustainable transport vision?


Does Penang have a more enlightened in its transport policy especially with regard to the prevailing car culture?

If you look at it, the Penang state transport master plan envisages that RM27bn will be needed to improve transport in the state.

BUT alarmingly, out of this RM27bn to be invested, RM17bn is projected for creating and improving roads while only RM10bn is projected for public transport (rail, trams, etc). How can?

Are we perpetuating a dependence on cars while attempting to create some minor improvements in public transport? What kind of model is that?

Well, this is what urban planner Leon Britton, who recently studied the transport model in Penang, thinks about it. I believe we are obviously at the stage somewhere between the Old Mobility and Mixed Minds models, unable to look beyond for fear of upsetting the status quo.

The less good news – let us call it bad news to be quite frank – is that transport policy in Penang is today firmly in the hands of the car culture. This is not surprising, but it is disappointing. The simple fact is that there is a well-known path of economic, social and transport development, which is shared by the majority of cities around the world, a vast majority of which in the still developing nations. There are basically three “models”.

Old Mobility: Cities that spend most of their public money on physical infrastructure, most of which favors private cars and motorised traffic, without any real thought that there may be a better way to go. (We call this the Old Mobility model, and incidentally there is not a city in history that has managed to jump this stage. We all did it at one point, so there is no shame there.).

Mixed Minds: In the second category are those cities and their leaders who are at least intellectually aware that the old “all-car” solutions are not the best, the most efficient, the fairest way to organize their cities, but who nonetheless continue to commit the majority of public money to support, de facto, the old mobility model: more highways, tunnels, bridges, road-widening, technologies that facilitate more traffic and higher speeds. Leadership in these cities are willing to allocate some funds to help public transport and a bit of cycling, pedestrian improvements here and there, and even shared transport. But if we audit their actual expenses we will see that despite the rhetoric the money is still firmly behind the car culture.

The New Mobility Agenda: In the third and last category we find the leading cities that are taking advantage of technology and new ways of recognizing their cities, and thus concentrate their efforts on severely reducing the role of the private car and favoring more space-efficient cities and transportation arrangements. The leaders in this last respect are quite definitely the European cities who are showing the way, though since 1975 your perspicacious neighbors down the road in Singapore have also figured it out for themselves. (But their forty years old model should not necessarily be your model. You can do better.)

Penang and its political leadership are today firmly in the hands of the car culture, despite the rhetoric to the contrary. Which brings us to my second and more optimistic conclusion after more than a year of looking at, listening to and analyzing what you are doing and planning to do.

The Role of Civil Society

It is my firm belief that the lead to sustainable transport and a sustainable city in Penang at this point lies just about entirely in the hands of Civil Society – and it is a wonderful thing that Penang has such strong tradition in this respect. But there is a slight problem.

While the concerns of the various groups are of course very diverse, as they should be, and it appears to me that there is still great difficulty in getting them to speak on the issues fair and better mobility in Penang with a common voice. If you turn to the page you will see a listing of some two dozen organizations that are more or less directly concerned with bringing sustainable transport to Penang. They need somehow to be brought together to make their voices heard as one in order to take an active leadership role. These barriers need to be broken down, and given the intelligence, commitment and energy of these groups this should be entirely doable. But we need to find the way to bring them together.

And in the meantime, the various lobbies, financial interests and alliances that have intentions quite other than the common interests continue to prove themselves a continuing menace to the entire concept of sustainable development and social justice. In short, it is a hard slog for democracy. But I am hopeful that Civil Society will overcome these challenges in Penang. In time, but hopefully soon.

Check out his full post and his Sustainable Penang blog here.

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What about the ‘Jaga Kereta’ menace in Penang?

Ed G

Wouldn’t it be better if the licensing of local public transportations be decentralized with their transfer from SPAD to respective state administrations? Each individual state can then incorporate public transportation into their larger master plan with less hassle.


A society that suffer the “ratchet effect” (taking opportunities cost such as cheap petrol, cheap parking, cheap road, easy loan ) is difficult to tackle with change of policy , i.e. raise the parking ticket, parking license, gradually remove public parking for green/recreation. I see people keep arguing “good public transport”. Which I think is ridiculous, this people are none other than the one that car owner : even with unrealistic number of feeder bus, they WILL NOT USE the public transport because it will NOT be next to their “convenient range” (which is not too close to their home… Read more »


Curitiba? Bogota? Seoul? “We we don’t want foreign culture.” We will not follow even the “little red dot” down south. We insist on reinventing the wheel.


How to bring “development” through transport:
– Promote private motor vehicles through loans, highways, etc. Make walking, cycling and even bus routes impractical.
– Destroy public transport through poor oversight, irrational changes, inadequate competition, etc.
– Promote urban and sub-urban sprawl. Build new administrative centres far away.
– Conceal information that ties common major diseases to pollution.

OM Saigal

Perhaps we should just emulate or imitate Curitiba in Brazil for a start. Internet has all the resources, so no need to visit it like local politicians will suggest (knowing them inside out)…….


Anil : Most of the comments are out of the topic.


Many Penangites are Pimps ?

gk ong

So said Umno Penang guy at Umno assembly claiming most chinese in Penang gain wealth via illegal activities like gambling and prostitution. In other words the Penang police is useless in his opinion.


Not just police but also the State govt that is useless as well. Enforcement of illegal activities, premises and issuing of licensing are done by the police as well as from the MPPP & MPSP. Bear in mind that !!!. Take for example of an illegal bar or karaoke entertainment centre. The police as well as the State authorities raid and inspect the premise for vice and whether it has been legally registered. If not, the State govt either issue a reprimand or a summon or close the centre. So the State govt is also useless or incompetent.


Instead of bringing up congested traffic issues, UMNO Penang delegate today antagonised more local chinese by associating some rich ones with illegal/illicit business like gambling and prostitution. This may open the worm can like why our Polis DiRaja Malaysia close 1eye towards such alleged activities ?


If they can prove it, it proves one thing:
the Polis & enforcement authorities are not doing an effective & buka mata job.
And you know who comprises as majority of makan gaji & who are expected to do their jobs, cekap + amanah.
Betul tak betul?


I was at Boulevard when my car broke down. There is no bus stand around the vicinity. I had to walk almost 1 1/2 miles down to either the Chung Ling school or the Farlim bus stand. Can you walk everyday for about 25 minutes down to the bus stop even if Prasarana frequency is good.

gk ong

If you take public transportation in the first place, there is no issue of car breakdown and there is no problem to begin with, right?

Don Anamalai

Public bus is not meant to serve car drivers who suddenly have the need because of car breakdown.

Aminah Sobri

iSupercally living near Falim should seek his Gerakan to follow Pulau Tikus free looping bus services BUT i doubt Gerakan there can do much since PR1MA there is a joke (no existence just PM empty talk).


Aminah Sobri : Prima is not a joke. There is no reason to build Prima in Penang since you have all chosen the CAT. Let the CAT do the job but then it seem he cannot do it and then put the blame on the BN govt. The whole of Farlim was developed by the BN govt under Gerakan. I don`t understand, since you all have chosen the CAT why keep calling on the BN govt to do it and then said empty talk. What about the empty talk and incompetency of the CAT govt. Look around almost every Low… Read more »


For your info I don`t live in or around Farlim but I do have a unit at Boulevard for sale…

Aisay man

I suppose Penang people are getting affluent day by day hence the “car culture” flourished, and many of them are Chinese as qouted by one UMNO assembly member:- “Penang delegate Mohd Zaid Mohd Said said the Chinese made a lot of money and gained power by being involved in illicit economic activities such as illegal gambling, prostitution and entertainment outlets. He said such activities flourished because the Malays are mild-mannered and the relevant authorities are turning a blind eye to them. “If we go all out to take action against their illegal businesses, I believe the Chinese will be afraid… Read more »

gk ong

The banks are making big profits on this.


I am on same page with you on traffic woes in Penang to excessive private car ownership at expense of public transport alternatives.

I have Bonnie Tyler type of heartaches to note more car showrooms being expanded and refurbished to entice more youths to spend their savings via crazy loans on cars now that homes/houses are beyond their reach.


I am one who is ready to do away with cars and jump onto public transport.

However, my fear is, are the young ones willing to do so. I may be wrong, please pardon.

As at the present stage those who live in pulau tikus have no problem at all when buses are concerned. I was told same @ farlim, folks there can easily catch a bus.


Check this up:
The new Singapore Government Contracting Model for public buses:

Don Anamalai

Go-Ahead London (British) and Veolia Transport RATP Asia (VTRA, French) are among several foreign players that are gunning for the first package of bus routes tendered under the bus-contracting model.

Both have declared interest in a slice of the Singapore bus market, after the Government announced earlier this year that the public bus industry would be restructured under a bus contracting model, in which operators would bid for a package of routes through competitive tendering.

gk ong

Meanwhile JB is still practicing Bas Pajak system where license holders sublet their buses to private drivers operating without proper schedule and park the buses at city roadside to fill busliad of passengers before departing.

RapidPenang is far more efficient and reliable than such Bas Pajak JB.