People still want to drive, critics of Penang transport plan told

Heavy traffic on the Penang Bridge. Supporters of the Penang Transport Master Plan say the series of highways would solve the island’s traffic problems. (Bernama pic)

GEORGE TOWN: A key person in the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) today told critics to face the reality that Malaysians were heavily reliant on private vehicles, and as such there should be a mix of good roads and public transport.

PTMP project manager Szeto Wai Loong.

PTMP project manager Szeto Wai Loong said Penangites would not want to dump their cars altogether for public transport, and as such the plan for a series of highways offered the right balance.

He said despite good rail networks in cities such as Beijing and Kuala Lumpur, there were still traffic congestions.

“Because people would still want to buy cars, there is no choice,” he said, adding that a proposal by local pressure group Penang Forum to develop a better public bus system was not realistic.

“(It would work only) if everyone stops buying cars and uses the bus or other transit systems. In general, there must be no cars and then everything will work,” he said during a question and answer session at a public forum on PTMP organised by the state government today.

Szeto, an executive director of Gamuda Engineering Sdn Bhd, was also involved in the construction of the Sungai Buloh-Kajang Mass Rapid Transit (MRT).

He said governments around the world provide a mix of highways and public transport, with a 60:40 mode share ratio.

Penang Forum has opposed a 20km highway project under PTMP, saying it would destroy the island’s eco-system as well as contribute to more traffic problems.

Instead, it said bus rapid transit or BRT was the best bet for Penang.

Former Seberang Perai municipal councillor Joshua Woo Sze Seng said Penang Forum’s push for BRT instead of the light rail transit (LRT) might not be sustainable in the long run.

Former Seberang Perai municipal councillor Joshua Woo Sze Seng speaks at a public forum on PTMP.

He said in the city of Bogota in Colombia, the BRT has become overcrowded and expensive since it first started in 2000.

“Even with one of the largest BRT systems for 17 years, Bogota ranked as the sixth most congested city in the world in 2017.

“Finally in September 2017, Bogota’s government decided to build a metro rail system with the estimated cost of US$4.1 billion. So, is BRT really so good as some NGOs keep telling us?” he asked.

“Bogota has experimented with BRT for 17 years and decided to finally build a rail system. Penang can learn from their experience.”

PTMP will see a series of highways and transit lines built in the state in the next 20 to 30 years at a cost of RM46 billion.

It would be financed through the creation of three artificial islands on the south of Penang Island, which would be later auctioned off to interested parties. The plan has yet to be approved by environmental regulators.

The Penang government is eager to kickstart two of its main projects, the Pan Island Link 1 highway (RM8 billion) and the Komtar-Bayan Lepas LRT line (RM8.4 billion).

The state has requested for a soft loan of RM1 billion for both projects so they can run concurrently.