A response to arguments against PTMP

Earlier this week, I was in a working group organised by the Penang Green Council on the topic of sustainable mobility and connectivity. The objective of the group was to prepare an official recommendation to the state authorities.

As part of the deliberations, we interacted consecutively with three experts on transportation. All three were academically qualified and experienced experts in the field. All three had different views on the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

The first was of the view that Penang needs a good hierarchy of transport system, with the Light Rail Transit (LRT) given top priority. The second expert dismissed the LRT and recommended an on-ground tram system. The third expert promoted the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

This should not surprise anyone as it is common for experts to disagree among themselves. One only needs to read enough doctoral theses to know that it is necessary for each expert to outsmart every other. This is not to deny scholarly consensus but to point out the nature of the academia which is driven by the prestige of originality.

A recent comment by a transport consultant added another take on the PTMP, although not a new one. I will respond to some of the points he made.

The author questioned PTMP for its multidimensional approach that includes the building of an inter-modal public transport system and the construction of a traffic dispersal network. With all his tirade against the latter, it seems that his alternative plan for PTMP is to stop building roads.

This is very odd as not one city with a good public transport system has stopped building roads. Hong Kong, with more than 90% of public transport usage, still continues to build roads to improve its traffic dispersal network.

The author insists that PTMP should look to Singapore as its model. Singapore spent more than RM502 million building roads in 2017, excluding the RM23 billion North-South Corridor. Yet, when Penang plans its own traffic dispersal network, the author condemns it.

It is a pseudo-conflict to peg the building of public transport versus construction of traffic network. If we look at cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, it is not about “to build or not to build roads” but rather “where to build roads to disperse the traffic?”

The suggestion for congestion charges in Penang is premature as such a policy can only be implemented when there exists a good public transport system. When Singapore started its congestion charges, there was already a widely used public transport system in place (beginning with an all-bus system before being transformed into a bus-rail system from the 1970s to 1980s). Besides, the author is wrong to say that Singapore’s Area Road Pricing Scheme was introduced in the late 1980s, as the actual year was 1975.

The author also questions PTMP’s inter-modal public transport system that consists of the LRT, monorail, tram, BRT and sky cab. This is odd as cities with high public transport usage have inter-modal systems.

Hong Kong has the MTR, trams, buses, taxis, boats and cable cars. Singapore has the MRT, LRT, buses, taxis and cable cars. Inter-modal public transport is common given the different traffic demands in various locations. This is so common that in fact the consultancy firm the author worked at provides consultation on multi-modal or inter-modal systems. It therefore boggles the mind why when it comes to PTMP, there is such condemnation.

The author seems to imply that PTMP is planned “relying solely on politicians” and hence is lacking in expert advice. Again, if only the author had actually studied the PTMP documents during the public display, he would have known that the team of experts behind PTMP comprise individuals with doctorates in the relevant fields and technical consultancy, with track records of hundreds of projects.

It is not surprising to see experts having different views of PTMP. What is surprising is for experts to condemn a plan without demonstrating detailed knowledge about it.

Joshua Woo was a member of the traffic management committee and urban planning committee of the Seberang Perai Municipal Council.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.