Penang Archives: A “STEP” Towards Sustainable Transport

This excellent independent analysis was prepared for the Sustainable Transport Environment in Penang (STEP) program by Mr. Ganesh Rasagam, Acting Chief Executive Officer, DCT Consultancy Sdn. Bhd. in Penang back in 1998, almost 20 years ago. Here you find selected extracts which we find to be particularly timely, the full text being available from http://goo.gl/dgYEv2 .  We leave it to the reader to be encouraged or discouraged if we compare this with the level of knowledge, planning and proposed project efforts which are receiving attention in Penang today. An excellent wake up call that apparently got lot in the bureaucratic and electoral shuffle. Great pity for the people of Penang, but there is still time to consult these points and recommendations which are as relevant today in 2016 as they were in the late nineties..

A “STEP” TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT:
A CASE STUDY OF PENANG, MALAYSIA

Full text at http://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/Bulletin68_Article-2.pdf

Ownership of cars and motorcycles in the state of Penang, Malaysia, is increasing at average rates of 9.5 per cent and 7.2 per cent a year, respectively. The total number of private vehicles registered in the state doubled between 1985 and 1995. This has resulted in urban traffic congestion, with increased delays and travel times, higher rates of injury and death from traffic accidents, as well as environmental degradation.

While the rapid increase in vehicular traffic is usually attributed to economic growth and urbanization, in this case it is because current transportation policy and investment in transportation projects are disproportionately skewed towards meeting unabated demand for road space. The needs and concerns of pedestrians, cyclists and bus users are seldom, if at all, taken into consideration in national and state transportation policies and plans.

The transportation requirements of mobility-impaired and vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities and the elderly, as well as vulnerable groups such as children and the poor, are almost always neglected when transportation planning is undertaken and investments are made.

Sustainable Transport Environment in Penang (STEP) was established in 1998 by a group of concerned citizens and voluntary groups in Penang, with the primary aim of addressing the concerns and advocating the interests of pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users and mobility-impaired groups.

This paper provides a brief discussion of the transportation issues in Penang and highlights concerns such as the environmental impact of road traffic, with emphasis on vehicular traffic-generated noise and air pollution.

The paper then proceeds to describe the formation and the various initiatives of STEP, following its participation in the Sustainable Penang Initiative (SPI). Successful lobbying initiatives, such as improvements to a major bus terminal in Georgetown, Penang, and the efforts of the group known as Sustainability, Independence, Livelihood, Access (SILA) are also mentioned.

The paper also discusses the advocacy experience of STEP and the issues for the future.

Introduction

The planning and provision of transportation infrastructure for urban travel in the state of Penang has been largely oriented towards the needs of private car users. National transportation policies and state development priorities have consistently been geared towards meeting the ever-increasing demand for road and parking space by private vehicles, while public transportation and non-motorized land transport modes have been largely neglected.

Also the government has targeted the motor vehicle industry as a key economic growth sector and has actively promoted private car ownership and use by making a range of Malaysian-assembled cars affordable and readily available. Coinciding with the period of rapid economic growth and increasing affluence over the past 10 years, private vehicle ownership and use has almost doubled in the state.

This trend has resulted in a situation where, due to the limited availability, capacity and quality of public transport facilities in Penang and the current pattern of land use and town planning, people have little choice but to own and use their own motor vehicles. At the same time, facilities and services for bus- and taxi-users, pedestrians and cyclists are mostly inadequate, while traditional modes of transport in Penang such as the trishaw and the ferry are rapidly declining in significance.

It is therefore hardly surprising that traffic congestion has worsened in the major urban centres such as Georgetown, Bayan Baru, Butterworth and Bukit Mertajam and has become a major social and political issue in the state. However, the problem is usually perceived in terms of the delays and inconvenience faced by motorists, rather than as a problem of accessibility and mobility for the entire population. The needs and concerns of pedestrians, cyclists, the mobility-impaired and captive users of public transport are seldom acknowledged, let alone addressed by policy makers and planners.

Sustainable Transport Environment in Penang (STEP) was the result of the coming-together of concerned individuals and voluntary groups to address this vacuum. This paper will briefly describe the urban transport issues and concerns in Penang and the background to the formation of STEP. This will be followed by a discussion of the initiatives taken by STEP and an indication of the future directions of the group.

The Response from the State

While the state authorities of Penang grapple with the plethora of urban transportation issues highlighted in the previous section, their limited policy, regulatory and financial capacity prevents them from adopting a holistic and integrated approach. In the absence of any innovative national policy on integrated urban transport, Penang, like most state and municipal authorities, has adopted conventional road-based transport solutions.

The major transportation proposals in the state are a coastal expressway to be constructed on reclaimed land (Jelutong Expressway), a Penang outer ring road, a Butterworth outer ring road and a second fixed link (a combination of bridge and tunnel) between the island and the mainland. The state authorities depend on the private sector to build these roads, in exchange for either the right to collect tolls or for parcels of land for development.

The rationale behind these proposals seems to be that building new and wider roads and providing more parking spaces in urban centres (within multi-storey car parks) will reduce traffic congestion. The authorities no doubt have intentions to upgrade public transport and improve facilities for pedestrians, but these are often measures that only tinker with the existing system and are insignificant when compared to the amount of investment and priority accorded to building roads.

The state government recently commissioned an international consultant to carry out an urban transport study of Penang in an attempt to formulate state-level measures and projects to deal with the problems of traffic congestion. This plan has not yet been formally adopted by the state, but it is expected to incorporate the major road projects mentioned in the previous paragraph.

In summary, while the state says that it is committed to sustainable development in principle, concerns have been expressed as to whether the transportation policies and projects being proposed would contribute towards a sustainable transportation system for Penang.

planning and provision of transportation infrastructure for urban travel in the state of Penang has been largely oriented towards the needs of private car users. National transportation policies and state development priorities have consistently been geared towards meeting the ever-increasing demand for road and parking space by private vehicles, while public transportation and non-motorized land transport modes have been largely neglected.

Also the government has targeted the motor vehicle industry as a key economic growth sector and has actively promoted private car ownership and use by making a range of Malaysian-assembled cars affordable and readily available. Coinciding with the period of rapid economic growth and increasing affluence over the past 10 years, private vehicle ownership and use has almost doubled in the state.

This trend has resulted in a situation where, due to the limited availability, capacity and quality of public transport facilities in Penang and the current pattern of land use and town planning, people have little choice but to own and use their own motor vehicles. At the same time, facilities and services for bus- and taxi-users, pedestrians and cyclists are mostly inadequate, while traditional modes of transport in Penang such as the trishaw and the ferry are rapidly declining in significance.

It is therefore hardly surprising that traffic congestion has worsened in the major urban centres such as Georgetown, Bayan Baru, Butterworth and Bukit Mertajam and has become a major social and political issue in the state. However, the problem is usually perceived in terms of the delays and inconvenience faced by motorists, rather than as a problem of accessibility and mobility for the entire population. The needs and concerns of pedestrians, cyclists, the mobility-impaired and captive users of public transport are seldom acknowledged, let alone addressed by policy makers and planners.

Sustainable Transport Environment in Penang (STEP) was the result of the coming-together of concerned individuals and voluntary groups to address this vacuum. This paper will briefly describe the urban transport issues and concerns in Penang and the background to the formation of STEP. This will be followed by a discussion of the initiatives taken by STEP and an indication of the future directions of the group.

. . .

Next STEP?

STEP has enjoyed a fair degree of success in its first year of existence, both in terms of highlighting sustainable transport issues in Penang, and in achieving modest changes such as the upgrading of the KOMTAR bus terminal. While STEP is not a formal organization and, technically speaking, is not a legal entity, nevertheless it has been able to operate in the public domain under the umbrella of the SPI project, which enjoys the support and patronage of leaders of the state government. This political space enjoyed by STEP is not necessarily a given and may be largely due to the political connections of the current STEP coordinator.

However the political space for STEP to function effectively may be jeopardized if STEP decides to adopt a more critical or confrontational stance. STEP has steered clear of public criticism of the state government over controversial transportation projects and proposals. For example, STEP did not endorse a joint press statement of NGOs and concerned individuals critical of a government proposal to build a massive bridge/tunnel to link Penang island to the mainland. Nor did STEP make any media statements on the controversial “autopont” flyover project of the municipal council, which is facing widespread public criticism, or join in the public debate over metered fares for taxis.

While STEP did make private submissions to the state government on the above issues, not taking an open public position poses some credibility problems in the eyes of members of the public and other public interest groups.

With the completion of the SPI project, STEP no longer has any legal status and has to decide which way to proceed. One option is to apply for registration with the Registrar of Societies as an NGO and take a more independent stance. Another is to establish itself as a company limited by guarantee and apply for non-profit status. Yet another option is to function under the umbrella of SERI. These options and the future direction of STEP are currently being discussed.

# # #

About the author:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as a development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist and international sustainability activist who has lived and worked in Paris since 1969. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport - https://worldstreets.wordpress.com . | Britton online: https://goo.gl/9CJXTh

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