RapidKL not panacea of Penangs transport woes

Ong Boon Keong

Modified 29 Jan 2008, 10:21 am

I refer to Charles Chia's letter RapidPenang - light at the end of the tunnel?

I do commend him for conceding that the "prime minister's announcement of his Chinese New Year gift to Penangites viz the RapidPenang," had aborted a preferable state-owned bus service.

It must have taken a hefty amount of courage for a person so close to Gerakan like Charles to contradict his chief minister, who was widely reported by the government-linked media as "begging" the PM to bring in the RapidKL to Penang as a "solution" to the "bad" bus service here.

After all, Charles is certainly entitled to speak the truth and in so doing he had admitted the fact that the Penang state government had indeed surrendered a preferable arrangement, ie state control over its bus services. I sincerely hope that Charles can stop going round and round passing the blame to the CVLB (Commercial Vehicles Licencing Board), which is only a government body acting under politicians' order.

As to Charles' wayward optimism that Rapid KL is the panacea for Penang's discredited bus service, I would very much like to understand the basis for such optimism. For instance, Charles stated that Rapid KL will bring financial support to Penang's buses in the form of RM50 million to buy new buses.

The fact of the matter is: Teng Hock Nan, the state exco in charge of transport, had confirmed that a RM50 million soft loan had been approved by the Finance Ministry for the above mentioned Bus Negeri Pulau Pinang for the same purpose. This brings out an interesting fact that Rapid KL had indeed not added a single cent to this already secured financial injection into the bus operation in Penang.

The pivotal point we must address is not the financial contribution, but who would end up controlling the buses. On this matter, the civil society groups and bus users are in agreement that after witnessing how KL bureaucracies (CVLB) and KL companies (mini buses, stage buses) had wrecked havoc in the Penang bus system in the last 15 years, it is high time that the Penang people take over the control of local buses.

The BNPP (Bas Negeri Pulau Pinang) was a welcome formulation and yet it was not to be. Charles' easy giving up of this local/state control principle is not only regrettable but a disgrace to all people of the great state of Penang, especially bus users and NGOs like Cepat.

As to any contribution of expertise, I don't mind to share some experiences from an observatory trip to KL to examine the operation of Rapid KL with him and everyone. Sad to say, from our observation, Rapid KL still has its hands full to come to grasp with the complexities in running a modern public transport system in KL. When it is nowhere near successfully delivering its job, it is illogical for someone else to hold up such a novice in public transport as a provider of 'expertise'.

According to Charles: "If Putrajaya is going to provide the buses and expertise for Penang, then that's a very big 'ang-pow' indeed!" But does he knows that new buses need a maintenance culture - which is in short supply - and expertise needs years of accumulation in the field to become reliable and adaptable to local conditions. So please don't contradict yourself to call these dubious and admittedly forced 'offerings' as 'angpows' from the PM.

The above position in favour of state and local control on Penang's buses is shared by bus users, SOS and also other NGOs in Cepat. Charles' "Thank goodness Cepat's position is not of SOS's" only shows how out of touch he is in the debate on public transport in Penang civil society. It simply sounds like desperate rhetoric by a budding politicians who might want to perform in front of the chief minister who has been confirmed to be not so in favour of letting Charles' brother (Chia Kwang Chye) take over the much sought after Penang's chief ministership.

My letter only try to project the interests of bus users and their supporters in Penang. Certainly it cannot match Charles' politicking and rhetoric in blatantly trying to split the civil society.