Changing Directions: Toward Sustainable Transport in Malaysia

Blast from the Past: A decade and a half ago we knew what to do.

. . . But we didn’t.  Any answers?

Penang Changing Directions - colorIn September 2001 after a three-day conference under the title “Changing Directions: Toward Sustainable Transport in Malaysia” was organized in Penang, the sponsor, the Consumers’ Association of Penang”, issued a handy pocket-sized version of a 76 page report, intended to serve as a handy “Statement and Summary of Conclusions of the National Seminar”.

This was a remarkably responsible and prescient document, and it is my hope that with the help of the Consumers Association of Penang we will be able to have PDF versions freely available on our shared Sustainable Penang  Public Library here at

Awaiting that happy day , I would like to share with you now and by way of first introduction the opening paragraphs which immediately help us to understand how informed and serious the analysis was so many years ago.

 For us to enjoy our constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of movement, we need a sustainable, efficient and affordable transport system.  It must enable all of us – regardless of wealth, status, gender and disabilities – to meet our need to travel to our workplace, home and for recreational and social activities efficiently at a reasonable cost, through a sustainable use of resources and without serious adverse impacts on the environment.

If we evaluate the Malaysian transport system using the criteria of sustainability, efficiency and affordability, we can only conclude that it has failed to meet the transport needs of our people and is in a state of crisis.  This crisis is part of the larger urban crisis due to overcrowding, poor housing and social amenities, pollution, crimes, alienation and fractured social relations.

The failure of the authorities to bring sustainable development of the rural areas, and the location of industries, business and services in a few cities and their satellites have produced the large-scale migration of people from the rural areas to the city area the resulting city sprawl has meant that homes, schools and workplaces and recreational facilities are scattered over a wide area requiring people to travel long distances, and make several trips, to perform their daily tasks and social activities.  The policy of directly or indirectly encouraging the use of private motorcars and motorcycles to meet the transport needs of our people has had severe effects on the quality of life in the cities and on the economy and efficiency of urban transportation

And then on page 7 the authors go on to note:

The solution to the problem of traffic congestion has been to build more roads, flyovers, interchanges, bridges and toll plazas but the problem still remains.  Tons of concrete have been poured onto thousands of acres of previously fertile agricultural land, rendering it barren.  Between 20 and 30% of urban land has been used to provide roads and other infrastructure for the motor car. . .

On the other hand, are public transport has been neglected and is in a deplorable state.  Minibuses are old, rundown and smoky.  They do not adhere to any time schedule.  It is common to see children and workers waiting for a long time to catch buses to their schools, workplace or to return home.  In the rural areas, where there is hardly any reliable public transport, people are forced to travel by motorcycles which are inherently dangerous.  The millions of ringgit spent by the government and the private sector on roads and infrastructure for the motor car could well be spent on providing an efficient and affordable public transport service could benefit millions from the lower income group.”

And then to close out this opening  chapter (from page 8):

The absence of a comprehensive and integrated National Transport Policy linking the issues of land use, transport and the environment has been largely responsible for the skewed development of the current transport system based on the private motor vehicle.  Transport projects have been implemented by the authorities generally without prior public consultation.  It is the government’s industrialization policy based on Big Business – the car, van, truck, and motorcycle makers, the road builders, the toll operators and other big players connected to the transport industry – which has influence the choices made our transport system.

We need to rethink our transport policies and move toward a people oriented and ecologically sound transport system.

We need to rethink our transport policies and move towards a people oriented and ecologically sound transport system we need to address these important issues:

  1. Formulation of a comprehensive, integrated and sustainable National Transport Policy with adequate input from the public.
  2. Good governance and transparency in the development and implementation of transport policies, plans and systems
  3. Development of an efficient, affordable, accessible and safe public transport system which informed the main complement of sustainable transport in Malaysia.
  4. Prominence given to nonmotorized modes of transport such as bicycles, walking and try shots.

In this statement, the attempt to provide an overview of the current status of our transport system together with some recommendations to alleviate the problems affecting we trust that this will contribute to a greater public awareness of the need for sustainable transport and also influence policy makers and planners to devise a better system of transport that what we have today.”

# # #

Read the report.

Although it was aimed at the mobility problems of cities and the surrounding areas across Malaysia, every line, every word is as valid today for Penang as it was clear to the authors more than 15 years ago. Here is the Table of Content to give you a better feel for the breadth of focus of the authors at the time:

Table of contents of 2001 CAP report

1, Introduction
2. Planning and policy issues
3. National transport policy
4. The economics of transport
5. Social issues in transport
6. Safety
7. Transport in the environment
8. Transport and industry
9. Sustainable transport strategies
10. Licensing

If we look at the recently published government website, the Penang State Transport Master Plan at, we can only be struck by the extent to which this document has almost entirely failed to take into account those basic lessons which provide the underpinnings of transport systems  in cities around the world who increasingly are meeting these fundamental objectives and criteria.

The current Transport Master Plan needs to be entirely rethought from the bottom up. We are indeed fortunate to have a number of reports, analysis and proposals in Penang that can help do a proper job of this important and thus far in Penang unmet challenge of public policy and private practice.

# # #

About the editor:

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, mediator and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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One thought on “Changing Directions: Toward Sustainable Transport in Malaysia

  1. The best way to help the poor is to allow other poor people with just a little more resource than most do, to help each other. A platform like Uber, Lyft of even the “Sapu” taxis (illegal taxis) should be allowed to flourish so that there will be less congestions and more market directed solutions. Accidents and crime can happen even in a public bus or licensed taxis. All these barriers of licensing and supposed restrictions in the name of safety is to make government feel needed and powerful but does nothing to help the poor.


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