The 2016 Civil Society Penang Sustainable Mobility Challenge: Lessons Learned and Next Steps

What were the weaknesses of our collaborative summer 2016 push

  • Very few – terrific job. Most sincerely! But also, to be honest and strategic . . .

  1. The entire project, the entire dispute, is not about politics and should not be dragged into that arena. It is about good GOVERNANCE. To shape and decide about such a complex challenge requires high technical competence and science-based analysis.
  2. “PTMP”: there should be no confusion. We are not proposing a “Penang Transport Master Plan”. That is what they call their proposal which incidentally is not a “transport master plan” by any professional or public policy criteria. Theirs is an unjustified shopping list of exaggeratedly and unnecessary, even counterproductive, infrastructure and mainly lagged, long term, and often purely silly infrastructure projects that have nothing to do with sustainable transportation or a sustainable city.
  3. Definitely should not have proposed a specific hardware option, no matter how attractive and quite possibly appropriate – i.e., THE TRAMWAY. Yes, it certainly could well be a great option for Penang . .  eventually and in due course. But we got ourselves in a bit of a wrestling match with the other side on this. Exactly the kind of hair pulling contest that they do so very well.
  4. IMHO this recommendation was PREMATURE. And more generally before we leap into matters of hardware or technology, do the analysis first – and then check through the full range of available options—with an eye out to available solutions that are: BETTER QUICKER CHEAPER, — and will yield early, concrete visible results and improvements
  5. Better Faster Cheaper – should better have been – BETTER QUICKER CHEAPER.  Because the goal of well working sustainable transport is not to speed but to get there quickly (and to get results without endless waiting for long term promises perhaps never delivered.
  6. DEBT-FREE FUTURE: This gives us a powerful challenge to the pathological excesses of the SRS proposal. We need to keep this up front and never let them wriggle their way out
  7. LAND GIVEAWAY DEALS: Have nothing to do with sustainable transportation for Penang, and therefore need to be cut off and explicitly explained and rejected.
  8. CIVIL SOCIETY: Insufficient explicit collaborative networking and coverage of the full range of concerned NGOs which need to be brought together to help define the future, both of their specific interest groups and the people and future population of Penang. (Civil society is the “aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens.)
  9. OUR GREATEST WEAKNESS TODAY. We appear to have disappeared from the scene. The other side is dominating and doing on their own terms. Uninterrupted by the voice of a vigilant citizenry. (i.e., in this case us).
  10. READY? But today we have everything in hand or within reach in order to be honorable combatants standing tall on the field vigilant citizenry. All we need is to COMMIT.
  11. AND IF NOT . . . And if we don’t pick up this challenge WHO WILL? Any candidates?


Here please find a small number of what we  believe to be excellent examples of elucidation,  idea-sharing and communication in support of a much needed alternative vision and policy of sustainable  transport for Penang.

  1.  The most effective short communication of our 2016 collaborative effort: (brilliant).
  2. And also right up there: Brainstorming the Penang Transport Master Plan(s) –
  3. Plus :

If we can proceed at that level of analytic and communications skill, then civil society and the people of Penang win!

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About the author:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. 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, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at and @ericbritton

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