Malaysiakini Letter

A reply to Lim Mah Hui’s views on road construction

Chris Lee Chun Kit  |  Published:  |  Modified:

This a response to Dr. Lim Mah Hui's statement on Malaysiakini and Free Malaysia Today.

First of all, I agree totally with your quote by John M Keynes who once said, “When facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?”

I am glad that you are also now open to the concept of having elevated LRTs in Penang and no longer confined to the idea of having trams mooted in the so-called ‘Better, Cheaper and Faster’ (BCF) ‘conceptual framework’ that the Penang Forum was insisting that the Penang state government simply adhere to. After the long and non-stop complains, I am glad that you have ‘changed your mind’, as John M Keynes so eloquently put it.

I do however wonder why your negativity is now shifted to highways instead of the elevated LRT. Are you simply nitpicking on facts just to find flaws just so that you can oppose for the sake of opposing? The more I see it, you simply cannot agree with your colleagues on facts and are willing to change your mind on the trams just so that you have an opportunity to oppose further. And you expect any government to listen to your alternatives?

Without any feasibility studies, and just rely on claims from your Internet fact-finding mission and interviews with tram manufacturers? Do you have a viable alternative to lay down on the table to begin with? Or have you changed your mind again?

With regard to the facts presented, I am not going to try to dismiss the available data but rather add on to it with local situations which are a reality in Penang. After all, being a councillor yourself, you should already know by now the daily challenges that Penangites go through in the face of a changing world.

When it came down to public transport, the Penang state government had agreed to it and had presented it in the available Penang Transport Master Plan or PTMP.

Yes, with the same elevated LRT which you and your colleagues in the Penang Forum vehemently opposed yet you so suddenly advocated for to the point of even promoting that the “cities with urban rail systems (trams, LRT or metro) reduce their car use, while those without any urban rail system increase their car dependence.” Now, why don't you help us smoothen the process for its implementation together with your colleagues?

Malaysia is ranked third for highest car ownership in the world in a research by Nielsen. Whether one is proud of it or not, car ownership will continue to rise in Malaysia as stated in Nielsen's report, especially in the South-East Asia region, intention for car ownership and upgrading (once financial means allows) is high. This points to the fact that affluence is a big factor in influencing growth in car ownership.

The second factor is the National Automotive Policy 2016 outlining our automotive policy till 2030, where the Malaysian Automotive Institute aims to boost energy-efficient vehicles (EEV) production to 85 percent by 2020 and more production means more cars, right?

Does this mean car ownership on the national level will go down? Of course not, now unless the federal government puts the brakes on the car manufacturing industry or severely raises the taxes for car ownership or impose congestion pricing, this trend will continue.

Penang is not an independent state like Singapore that can restrict the inflow of cars from its borders, Penang is a part of Malaysia and cars from other states and neighbouring countries will be flowing in, who will be the ones who suffer then?

Speaking of Singapore, the point is not about the city-state having a lower per capita supply of highways compared with Penang (yet Penang is building even more highways). It is about the fact that despite Singapore having achieved a 60 percent public transport modal share, Singapore is still building more highways. Why? Why isn't Singapore going cold turkey and pushing for 100 percent public transport modal share?

Road/highway system is the basis of a country’s or state’s economy

The answer is simple and is that having an efficient and complete road/highway infrastructure (for traffic dispersal) welcomes and supports whatever the future holds for the fast evolving automobile industry and that the road/ highway system is the basis of a country’s or state’s economy.

You cripple the roads and highways, the economy grinds to a halt. Which is fine for those who are well off and can just criticise from the comforts of their own homes but what about those who need to earn a living here? These are people’s lives we are talking about here.

The highways proposed in PTMP are bypasses that aim to critically diffuse regional from local traffic, thereby imbuing existing roads and highway networks with the proper hierarchy that it sorely lacks. Perhaps it would do you much good to examine the present highway system in Penang to appreciate its present deficiency.

Furthermore, Halcrow in its strategy report stated that road traffic performance will be impoved with the recommendations made for highway improvements based on the highways proposed. With your diligent involvement in the Halcrow TMP Strategy Report, I am sure you are aware of this.

Not to mention, the window of opportunity from being able to efficiently cater for future goods and private vehicle activity from these new highways in PTMP affords the state more time to focus on more investments in public transport, not just infrastructure but also innovative policies and measures to control private vehicular growth.

I am sure the Penang state government is and will look into more public transport-friendly policies to encourage public adoption as the first elevated LRT line is now being pursued closely with the federal government.

The key is not to stop after building the highways but the relief gives the state the chance to invest in more rail public transport such as more elevated LRT lines to ‘catch up’ and win a bigger margin of modal share. One can say that achieving a 40 percent public transport modal share for Penang by 2030 could be a little high, but it is not impossible with the right policies in place.

But I need to remind you, sir, that the Penang state government can only start to encourage public transport usage, after the public transport infrastructure is in place, not before.

I had just written an article about my take on why Donald Trump had won the elections over the mainstream’s ‘chosen one’ Hillary Clinton . In spite of what our experts, academics, theorists and analysts might say, there are pressing needs which critically need to be addressed now and we as an elected and accountable government, need to respond to those needs.

Now, if your plan is to choke Penangites until they are forced to take public transport, then again what is your contingency plan now until the same public transport is constructed and ready?

A study can be based on many other cities but they are past experiences which do not take into account changing trends of an ever changing world and should not be treated as the infallible truth. Are any master plans perfect? No, constructive criticisms are welcomed but only concrete plans can be considered for implementation, have you or the Penang Forum ever come up with any credible or implementable alternative plans?

Ten years ago, no one had a smartphone and you have seen how smart phones have disrupted global communication. With smartphones, as little as five years ago, no one had even heard of Uber but it has changed the face of public transport and placed the ‘shared economy’ concept in the mainstream (unexpected disruptions once again), who knows what might happen in 10 years with public transport?

Bottom line again, highways are not the only solution that we are proposing but highways can relief the current traffic problems Penang is facing today before the elevated LRT comes in, and even more lines are that.

And please spare us the preaching about people who disagree with one another from within the same organisation. After all, this is a democratic state and we can all agree to disagree right? Anyway, not all NGOs agree with you and the Penang Forum as well, but you still insist you are right.

In fact, you had just disagreed with the Penang Forum and your other NGO colleagues by accepting the elevated LRT. I respect your change of heart sir, as you yourself so eloquently quoted John M Keynes: “When facts change, I change my mind. What do you do sir?”

CHRIS LEE CHUN KIT is a city councillor with the Penang Island City Council (Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang) representing the DAP.

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