Malaysiakini Letter

Taking Penangites for a ride

Ravinder Singh
Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | The Penang government says that it wants to tackle the road traffic congestion problems in Penang (mainly on the island), and yet it wants to build more roads to accommodate more vehicles. 

Has building more roads ever solved traffic problems in other cities? Having followed the debate and public meetings on this grandiose project, I am left wondering whether Penangites are being taken for a ride.

For the past four decades, the Klang Valley has seen a continuous building of roads, by-passes, underpasses, flyovers and elevated highways. 

But the traffic congestion problem has actually become worse with a lot more cars creating long traffic jams at peak hours - the very problem they were built to solve! 

A lot of people need to leave their homes by 6am or earlier and only get back home around 8pm. What kind of life are they living? 

A young lady in my neighbourhood went to work in KL for a good salary of RM8,000 plus, not including bonus. Hardly a year passed and she was back. Why? She said it was not worth the money to stay in a place where life was so stressed.

Promoting this traffic solution like high-pressure salespersons, the Penang government is selling the picture that Penangites will have a better life with the new highways running through the hills and under the sea. 

Uninformed people get mesmerised (or drugged) by such talk and beautiful posters which creates in them a "want" for such things. The touted benefits are far from the truth as the "good life" of zooming from one point to another will be extremely short, just four years!

If the construction of the roads and tunnels were to start in 2019, the completion date will be 2026, i.e. seven years later. And according to the EIA report, these new roads will reach full capacity by 2030. That is a mere four years! 

The cost, mind you, is RM8 billion. That works out to RM2 billion a year to enjoy "smooth" driving for a mere four years! 

What sort of economics is this? And what happens after that? A problem is created for the next round of politicians to "solve"! And so, the cycle will go on being repeated.

For seven years the army of contractors will be laughing to the banks. After that Penangites will be laughing on the new roads for just four years, and then back to crying again on congested roads!

Many other cities in the world have worse traffic congestion problems compared to Penang island. They are not clamouring to build more roads, flyovers, etc. 

They consider them obsolete technology, as there is no history that they solve the traffic congestion problems created by the ever-increasing numbers of motor vehicles over extended periods of time.

Instead, they are going for new technology like trackless trams, fleets of electric buses running at just one or two minute intervals on dedicated bus lanes, providing bicycle lanes, clearing whole streets of motor vehicles. And a lot of people are taking to bicycling in some of those cities.

Bicycling should be the "in" thing now in small cities like Georgetown and suburbs like Bayan Baru. I'm sure a lot of people would take to it if there were proper lanes separated from motorised traffic for safety's sake. 

Almost every weekend I see hundreds of bicyclists riding from the city and other urban areas along the way to Balik Pulau and beyond

If the number of vehicles on the roads are reduced and there are dedicated bicycle lanes for the sake of safety, I'm sure many people will be happy to cycle about and even cycle to work.

This brings us to the pressing question as to why the politicians are hell-bent on spending billions on something that is going to be so short-lived? Their claims that the people are supportive of the projects are an eye-wash as it is from people with vested interests and the mesmerised uninformed. 

If even professionals can fall victim to scams and frauds, similarly ordinary people can be taken for a ride about the benefits of the proposed roads and tunnels with descriptions like "dramatic time reduction" (about 20 minutes saving at most from North of the Island to the airport!).

The politicians seem to be working for the benefit of construction companies which advise them that more roads and tunnels are needed to solve traffic problems.

Penang's leaders should not be stubborn about their idea of solving traffic problems. They are not the know-alls on this matter and if their consultants are the construction and development companies, then there is a serious conflict of interest. 

The attitude that as elected persons it is their prerogative to do as they please must change. Surely there are more knowledgeable people in society, without vested interests, who can also give ideas, perhaps better ones, than the ideas they have with the help of vested interest parties.

Really independent parties who have no vested interests in any plans or projects of the state government should be the ones those in power give a serious ear to. Otherwise, the public should not be blamed if they feel there might be some  hidden agenda behind the projects.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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