In an article entitled Traffic Congestion in Penang, published by the Penang Transport Council on 31 March 2010, we can get an idea of the level of awareness shown by State government of traffic congestion issues and eventual solutions at the time. One important missing piece of the puzzle in their overview is the lack of consideration of land use and related urban planning issues and measures. Something which is very much in the hands of local government. Many of these points come up again in the 2013 Transport Master Plan Strategy for the State of Penang. And as of the date of this posting (13 May 2014) are still very much unresolved.
Let’s have a closer look at the composition, contributions and independence of the Penang
Transport Council in the weeks ahead. There may be some interesting lessons there.
Traffic Congestion in Penang
Penang Transport Council, 31 March 2010
The following are the major areas of concern:
1) Constraints faced by State and Local Authorities
First and foremost, it is important for readers to fully understand the constraints under which the state and local governments operate in Malaysia. While Malaysia is a federal system of government, in practice it is more of a unitary government where so much power is vested with the Federal government and very little with the state and local authorities. The state government has only two sources of revenue – collection of taxes related to state land matters and Islamic religious taxes, while the local governments collect assessment taxes etc. Just to give you an idea of this imbalance of economic power, between 2001 and 2008, the Penang State contributed $26 billion to the Federal revenue but received only $0.8 billion in return. The state depends on the Federal government for building federal roads etc. Given that the Penang state is not BN controlled, you must be able to appreciate the economic problems faced by the state. For those who are interested to learn more about the asymmetry of power between the federal and state governments, please visit Penang Forum website.
2) Singapore Model?
Some readers have commented to study from the Singapore model. In fact the PTC is planning to send a delegation to visit the Singapore transport authorities.
But it should be emphasized that we face very different circumstances as pointed out above. Singapore is a city-state and the authorities are able to formulate and implement laws with very little constraints. Hence, readers must appreciate this basic difference.
3) Federal Powers over Transportation Issues
Next, the Federal government controls and determines many transportation issues such as ferry and water transport, bus and taxi licensing and even bus routes. The CVLB (Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board) – a federal authority issues and controls these licenses and the CVLB has not been very effective in controlling these bus and taxi operators. For example, some readers have commented on buses not leaving on time or on specified routes, we have brought these to the attention of CVLB but no action has been taken against these errant operators. In fact CEPAT (a public transport NGO) had at one time wanted to take CLBV to court for failing to discharge its duties to properly monitor and regulate the operations of bus companies that it had issued licenses to. We, however, have to commend Rapid Penang for offering higher standards of services to the public. This does not mean Rapid cannot improve and comments are still solicited.
4) Bus Transport
We agree with most of the comments and suggestions on improving bus transport and are working closely with Rapid to achieve those objectives. Please bear in mind again that the state and local authorities have no control over the other private and taxi operators who continue to flout laws.
We will request Rapid to provide bus routes and make bus makes easily available at affordable prices. As to time table, the issue is more complicated because even though the Rapid buses leave on time, they are caught up and delayed in traffic jams and hence its difficult to keep time according to the schedule. However, riders can get an estimation of time of bus arrivals by calling Rapid at 238-1313. Rapid tracks its buses using GPS and can estimate the arrival time.
We are working to provide bus lanes in certain areas to improve bus flows. But the public MUST cooperate by obeying the traffic rules.
Rapid has increased its bus services significantly over the last one year. Over 200 buses serve Penang island and over 100 buses Penang mainland. In some more travelled routes like Tanjong Tokong, Rapid buses leave every ten minutes. It is up to citizens like you to start taking buses voluntarily and increase the bus ridership as a percentage of total road users which is still in the low teens.
If citizens do not do that voluntarily, then the government should consider measures to discourage use of private cars such as imposing higher parking charges in town and a fee on busy streets or entering the city at peak hours. Such fees collected can be used to subsidize public transport. We would like to know how many readers would be willing to support such measures.
5) Bicycle and Pedestrian Lanes
We also appreciate and agree with the suggestions to encourage bicycles as a form of transport and to provide bicycle lanes, plant more trees, clear five foot ways, improve pedestrian lanes and make facilities more accessible for the physically disadvantaged.
6) Other Modes of Transport and the Penang Master Transport Plan
Other modes of transport such as LRT, water ferries, trams etc have been suggested. All these will be considered in the Penang Master Transport Plan and a holistic integrated system will be proposed by the consultant. The State Government has already called for open tender for consultants for the Penang Master Transport Plan. Please visit the website http://ep.penang.gov.my, for those wishing to participate in the tender.
A major problem with traffic congestion is the lack of enforcement. Much of the enforcement powers lie with the Federal police over which the State has no authority.
Two major causes of traffic congestions are illegal parking and illegal hawking. Again, under the present by-laws the local authorities are limited in its ability to clamp and tow illegally parked cars. The local councils are in the process of amending their local by-laws to enhance their enforcement powers. The MPPP has also written to the IGP for permission to establish a Polic Bantuan Unit to improve enforcement.
Ordinary citizens can help in enforcement by taking photos and providing evidence to the traffic police to take action against people who violate traffic rules.
8) Traffic Lights and Traffic Flow
The Traffic Unit of the MPPP is constantly studying ways of improving traffic lights and traffic flow in terms of streamlining one way streets. A traffic consultant study is now being done to decongest traffic in hot spots like Jalan Masjid Negeri and Ayer Itam Road. MPPP has adopted the comprehensive Urban Traffic Control system to allow interactive operation of traffic signal network. However, due to budget constraint, it has not been expanded to cover the whole island. About 90% of the traffic signal installations in the island are of vehicle actuation type, i.e., with inductive loop coil to control signal timing.
9) Parking Fees and Parking Lots
The local councils are looking at introducing new parking fee collection system, increasing off street parking lots and decreasing on-street parking lots, and revamping parking fee rates. Parking system should be seen as a tool for traffic management.
10) Different Speed Limits
The JKR is empowered to set and gazette speed limits on all federal roads and state roads whereas MPPP is empowered to gazette speed limits on state roads and roads within the city limit. For inner city limits (bordered by Larut Road, Anson Road, Perak Road and Sungai Pinang Road), MPPP has gazetted the speed limits as 50 km/h where traffic is more busy and congested. For roads outside the inner city limit, MPPP has gazetted the speed limit as 65 km/h. For Masjid Negeri Road, Scotland Road, Tun Dr. Awang Road, Tun Sardon Road and Tunku Kudin Road, MPPP has gazetted the speed limit as 80km/h.
11) Public Participation
Finally we would like your views on whether it is good idea to organize occasional public town hall meetings for councilors and PTC to explain what is going on and to solicit feedback. If such a public meeting is held, would you participate?
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About the author:
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 https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton