Penang Transport Masterplan and the ‘elephant in the room’


Just as the MPPP, despite all its scrimping to trim expenditure, has an elephant in the room in the form of the expensive Spice, so too the Penang Transport Masterplan has a huge behemoth overshadowing it.

The RM8bn worth of transport infrastructure projects – a tunnel and several highways – announced by the state government in May, at about the same time the transport masterplan consultants were engaged, threatens to derail the whole purpose of the masterplan. A masterplan should come up with the most sustainable long-term transport option for Penang. But these RM8bn worth of mega projects – which emphasise private motor vehicles – are driving us in another direction.

The transport masterplan consultants are from Halcrow, a company better known as an engineering and construction giant, and two other firms. (Halcrow Group was involved in the UK-France Channel Tunnel rail link project.) I don’t think the consultants even know if the tunnel is “committed”; so how are they going to come up with a meaningful masterplan? Shouldn’t they be the ones proposing progressive/sustainable transport solutions for Penang rather than state government leaders making spur-of-the-moment decisions that emphasise private motor vehicles without adequate study of transport needs?

Why is the state government coming up with all these projects at a time when the transport masterplan isn’t even ready? The masterplan is now only at the stage of identifying solutions and strategies. (Draft masterplans will be ready by the end of this year and early next year and the final plan in March next year.) In any case, the long-term target they are thinking of for public transport usage is just 40 per cent.

Interestingly, the consultant at the workshop pointed out that different sets of participants at the two workshops held this week felt that we should be moving away from cars and roads and focusing more on sustainable transport – better public transport and shaded bicycle lanes and pedestrian walkways. That came as a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, the state government seems intent on taking us in another direction with more highways and tunnels and infrastructure for private motor vehicles.

One politician felt that Malaysians were so accustomed to using their cars they would simply not use public transport. I pointed out to him that Malaysians were more than happy to use good public transport systems abroad – so why do they use their cars here? Simply because we lack a reliable public transport system at home.

The resurrection of the northern tunnel project, first proposed by Samy Vellu in the form of a bridge-tunnel in 2001, suggests that we are bereft of any vision for promoting a really sustainable transport model. I remember writing an article for Aliran Monthly, sharply criticising Samy Vellu’s proposal and pointing out that the ferry service was operating well below the previous frequency. In fact, we only have half as many ferries operating now compared to the situation in the late 1970s, when we had an excellent service. But when one terminal collapsed in a tragedy in the late 1980s, a few years after the Penang Bridge was opened, the authorities preferred to neglect the ferries (presumably so that more people would use the bridge).

It is thus amazing that the present Penang state government is resurrecting the ‘Samy Vellu Tunnel’ and promoting greater private vehicle usage through its plans to construct more highways. This at a time when we are bound to see higher fuel oil costs in the future. In fact, the RM8bn in transport infrastructure projects dwarfs the amount that would have been spent on the controversial Penang Outer Ring Road project (during BN rule), which was strongly opposed by Penangites.

One of the workshop participants pointed out that state government leaders had rarely, if ever, encouraged people to use public transport in their speeches. Why not encourage more people to use the buses (we now have 300 buses) and improve the interchanges and other supporting infrastructure? I wondered aloud, if the state government could promote a “Cleaner, Greener Penang” and “No Plastic Bags”, why couldn’t it launch a concerted campaign to get Penangites to use public transport?

Another participant took it a step further and said it would be great if state government leaders could set an example and actually use public transport to work, like leaders in some countries have done. I know of one MPPP councillor now who actually cycles to work from Tanjung Bunga, risking life and limb to show the way forward. The Tanjung Bunga Adun himself often cycles around.

But then, I suspect, some people are more interested in mega infrastructure projects that are more in line with their fantasies of what an “international city” would look like. They are more taken up by big investor-driven top-down models of development. I suspect these people have little idea what the heritage and identity of Penang is all about.

I mentioned to the consultant that a poll on my blog showed that overwhelming numbers of you would choose public transport and leave your cars at home if Penang had a reliable public transport system.

To this, the consultant remarked that respondents of similar polls carried out everywhere else usually answered the same way, but what they meant is that they wanted other people to leave their cars at home and use public transport, and not them personally.

I don’t think this is the case here. But let’s find out. Let me ask you again, would you – yes, you yourself – really leave your cars at home and use public transport if we had a better public transport system in place?

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A resounding YES to good public transport. I have never driven a car in my life and live for public transport. So boo to that politician that said Msians prefer to drive.


If all politicians, including LGE just take public transport to show us the way by example. Just for one whole month is all it takes, come rain or shine or haze!
Show us by real life real time example, not cheapo publicity stunts of once in a blue moon. Even the cows can fly over the moon. No big deal!

anti LGE

LGE, Samy Vallu, Yaacob are all the same. … he will turn Penang over to BN, like his mentor Lim Chong Eu.

Syiok Syiok

Is biking safe in Penang ?

btw, what will happen to the 1-Malaysia bikes used for this morning “charity” ride at Straits Quay in Penang ? Are they going to be donated to the less priviledged ones ?


According to some news, Ah koon fells during the event because he fail to brake with the inferior “1-(time-use)-Malaysia scrap yard bicycle.
The toal repair cost will definite cost as much as the submarine.

Syiok Syiok

typical scene of penang traffic jam :

So travel with RapidPenang for a start.

Simultaneously, Anil continues to champion the use of public transport and get RapidPenang to reduce monthly pass from RM85 to RM45 for a start.

Thank you.


I think Kee completely misses the point: ie we should further improve the level of service of public bus system. It is SOP to provide basic info at bus stops and transport terminals. How do we change mindsets? Not by preaching but by visible results. It is not unreasonable to expect a certain level of convenience otherwise how do ypu explain the many motorcyclists and kancils on the road? Having said that, i commend rspidpenang for the vast improvements it has made.

Yong Wooi

Hmm… looks like Kee has never stepped foot outside of Penang Island. Hahaha… hey, how about go visit our our immediate neighbour — Singapore ok? Remember to come back … and share your experience.. 🙂


Amazing, it is!
These ballet dancing bulls carry no credit cards to pay for expensive china breakage.
How about Penang’s Serengeti Property Chase rainy green horned wildebeests? They carry Gold credit cards, so most likely to fit the notion of reckless bulls in china shop!


Penang is not KL!
Neither is it Merlion City.
Know your own place, a heritage tourist destination which has narrow lanes in inner city George Town.
MRT is good for the outskirts linking suburbs like Bayan Baru, Balik Pulau, Ayer Itam/Farlim and Tanjung Bungah to bus interchanges beyond the inner city.
Why be more rainy green horned and greedy for dizzy development that may not be sustainable and suitable for Penang?
Think strategically. Not GaGas blinky.

Concerned Penang Boy

Build road, build high way and tunnel is good, but at the same time, build MRT, build buslane lah~~~~~~ Moreover no one support the government to build MRT also, everyday complain complain complain. ==

Nk Khoo

LGE is a copycat of BN, mega projects is equal to development. …


What a stupid comment


As stupid as his syiok sendiri posting on his blog.

Jalil Din

He is creating controversy to sell his own blog.


To your question of: would you really leave your cars at home and use public transport if we had a better public transport system in place? If it takes 5 minutes to wait within schedule of coming buses. Frequency of intervals will determine how people will favor public bus transportation. If it costs only RM30.00 for monthly pass. And purchase of pass be made available at Pos Office besides Lorong Kuilit. If bus drivers are helpful with info, courteous (need not smile like Garfield) and honest with standardized bus fares. If it is not riding like packed sardines in tin… Read more »


While I generally agree with many that Penang state should embark on greener and efficient public transport system as the way forward, it’s still largely an issue ignored by motorist, mostly due to the perceived benefits of car vs what the public transport cannot offer, door to door destination, transportation of goods, comfort and time management etc. The dependency overshadowed the downside risk of internal combustion engine spraying Carbon Monoxide, which is lighter than air and highly toxic to human in higher quantities, not sure if CO is officially listed as a cancer causing carcinogen though. Normally as comparison, Singapore… Read more »

teh poh choo

Hi Dawsheng,
My family formerly from Penang and now is charimakaning in Singapore. I support most of your solution to the traffic problem but if the LGE gomen inplement immediately, it will fall or lose a lot of votes. Same in Spore,Beijing,London or anywhere. Be Patient! Let PR take over Putrajaya and truly re-educate allover. Corruption is Evil
Green is Perfect
Mat Sabu is Correct!


Thank you.


I own a car but would like to travel by public transport if it is efficient like in HK and elsewhere. I have used buses in KL and Penang. But the experience was quite tortuous when you don’t really know where the buses are supposed to stop, when they are supposed to arrive. From the Sg Nibong bus station I was waiting at abus stop for hours before finding out that the bus to George Town does not pick up passengers from there. To go to Tanjung Bungah I had to change bus at KOMTAR. So why would I leave… Read more »


My my my !!! This is the mindset of orang Penang or maybe Malaysians at large. We expect CONVENIENT at our doorstep !!! My dear Just, before your take any public transport didnt you need to do your homework first? We complain because we have to change buses from point A to point B !!! Come on la, my aunt in the US, have to take 3 modes of transport before she arrives her place of work. And my friend in Melbourne, she has to take a bus and a train to her office everyday. The other day, i watched… Read more »

Nk Khoo

The bus map and route guide in Penang bus stations have to be improved.

Not everyone is using iPhone to check for RapidPenang bus guide app.

No idea? Go down to Singapore to learn from kiasu on route mapping guide displays in the each bus stop.

Gerakan K

This is LGE adminstration. Haha great one Anil, `elephant in the room`.

PR = BN, but at least under BN you got more development efforts and fund !!!

Andrew I

A bull in the China shop for 53 years. Not quite the same.

Nk Khoo

Mythbuster show proved a bull in the china shop is not bad after all, not a single china ware is broken by the bull.

Andrew I

Must be a special kind of bull then.:-p

Andrew I

…and they didn’t put Gherkin in the same shop for their experiment.


Yes, I prefer to use public transport to get around provided that conditions are favourable. I must say there has been considerabe improvement in the Rapid Penang bus services in terms of comfort and reliability. Unfortunately, some of the bus drivers are still discourteous on the road. There could be reasons for it but then discipline on the road is a neccesity. The roads in Penang can be small and made even smaller by ill mannered motorists who plunk their cars every where they seem fit for their convenience.l I have seen bus drivers having to honk and wait for… Read more »


1) If these consultations are mainly to find the right solutions to the traffic gridlock in Penang, then it is acceptable. 2) The traffic system and the islands connectivity to the mainland is one of or even the most important issue that the state government has to solve. As the number of vehicles increase, the situation will likely explode in the already congested island in 10 years. Commercial activity will decline and the state’s economic value will decline in tandem, tourism included. 3) Formulating a transport masterplan SOLELY for the state is not only costly (which the people of Penang… Read more »

teh poh choo

Dear Eloi,
Do not belittle yourself or LGE government. Help him to solve the problems or our vision will be slipping away until kingdom come!


By knowing the hard truths on running a government. There are many things can be done or not be done. I am sure if Anil were to be the Chief Minister, he would achieve very little. The culprit is with the civil service. Watch this!


You do not need a car in Singapore as the public transport system is so advanced, it can be done in Penang too with that 8billion budget. Problem with politicians is they dont experience the life of a normal person who uses public transport. I guess most people will love to travel around in public transport if there was a good and efficient one. With just an easylink card you can travel around Singapore so easily and its healthy too walking around every where. It may bring the temperature down when less cars are used. Same thing happening in Taiwan,… Read more »


Chronic, Even Singaporeans in Singapore think that their government does not have the experience of the normal citizens travelling on public transport. Grand master Anil scheme is not just to have the efficient public transport but also to reduce the number people staying in the island. That includes those travelling into the island. Making Penang an exclusive few to stay in. An utopia borders the Garden of Eden in the bible. As much as I agree with Anil, the devil is always in detail. While I agree with Anil that spending money on building Spice is rather luxurious, spending money… Read more »


Looks like Penang Trasport Masterplan may not have LRT (Light Rail Transport) plan for Penang ?
In the 90’s reported that the population size then did not justify the sustainability (profitability) to run MRT.
If not now, when ?
When the road becomes too congested that even piling work etc cannot be carried out ?

btw, why RapidPenang now in monopoly not working hand in hand with federal/local gomen to set up proper and standard bus stands in Penang ??? Licence or commercial reasons ? Anil do update the public when you have the inside news, ok ?

Ong Eu Soon

LRT is just another mega project that Penang can’t afford. What we need is proper transit stations just the the transit stations for LRT. Only then can we plan how to interconnect the transit stations with daisy chain topology the way the transit stations of LRT are connected. We can’t always go to the ferry terminal or Komtar to make the next route change.


LRT MRT? Penang population density and income just CANNOT justify it. HK and singapore merely break even due to their population density and usage. Even a “packed” Penang can’t compare to those two place “non peak” usage. Now , somebody please tell me, what’s wrong with bus and alternate transport such as bicycle + electric bikes? I can assure you, 95% Penang people can afford those. On the other hand, if you break the MRT/LRT cost down, even with 200% Penang population , they CANNOT pay back the MRT/LRT infra cost in next 30 years, NOT even after account the… Read more »


Thats no different than BN? Way forward is to control the amount of private cars and new big roads being built on Penang and focus more on reliable public transport. We really need to think beyond those mega projects for the sake of our next generation.

We don’t want them blaming us for not preserving what they too deserve


What if we were to implement the singapore style of road pricing. How about that? You think Anil would agree to it


The Penang Road Tunnel is not a good idea, not at present anyway. I don’t think there is a need for Penang Island to have another highway access from the mainland on top of the 1st and 2nd bridges for the foreseeable future. A large number of users who use the Penang bridge every day are commuters going to and from work in the Industrial areas in Bayan Lepas and Prai. It is definitely doable to work out a public transport solution for these commuters. The problem is we have a culture in Malaysia where a primary criteria for “solutions”… Read more »

Ong Eu Soon

Everything they are talking about is money. Planting 150 Bucida trees cost RM50000. My 1000 Paulownia trees project which cost me only RM100, the rest is my effort and labor. By next year, you will be able to see purple flowering trees in certain areas of Penang without costing Penangites a single cent.

Ong Eu Soon

LGe just has no ideas what to do with public transport, all he want is to build more roads and tunnels. Read the following about the BRT of Curitiba. Curitiba has a unique transportation system, developed locally and causing much interest worldwide. This Bus Rapid Transit system is very simple and practical. Public transportation consists entirely of buses. There are several different types of bus, each with a different function. All stations are easily accessed and enclosed. The buses have been changed to make for easier entry and exit. Together with other low-cost changes, this bus system aims at becoming… Read more »

semuanya OK kot

The former mayor who was instrumental has repeatedly pointed out that the cost is a fraction of that of an MRT. Unlike other Brazilian cities, this one even has money to aid its jobless and homeless. Find and look up the photos of Cutitiba to be convinced. Don’t get conned into accepting waste of public funds, deadly pollution and environmental destruction quietly.

semuanya OK kot

The former mayor repeatedly emphasised having proven that BRT costs far less than MRT. Curutiba has enough money for even social welfare on its own. Look up photos of it to appreciate their achievement. Do not accept public waste, deadly pollution and environmental destruction.


Anil’s adding sugar n spice to penang’s perceived “scandals” before joining BN’s joyride this sunday morning ?

again to remind readers to exercise careful judgement and don’t jump to hasty conclusion as Anil ever reminded us of yellow reporting.

let justice flows like river – naturally – without added pollutants to sensationalise the myths as facts.


Having said the above, the ardent Anil’s readers should appreciate Anil’s investigative reporting that allow many of us to start to think laterally and not confined to btn (barang terus naik) box.

While we should reserve our judgements; Anil’s getting more in-depth probes have the MPPP/Pakatan/BN to sit up and listen to the rakyat.

A small step forward but a significant one towards a more lateral thinking Malaysians !

Keep it up and constantly be remindedwith fair without prejudice mega-scale reporting……


It will be very ironic to see those BN flers cycling for votes when they are wasting so much rakyat money to keep Proton afloat and to feed those Lotus Mat Salleh in UK.