A leading international transport policy expert looks at the PTMP and advises . . .

. . . Look to Singapore, not KL, for PTMP

KL mega traffic with LRT overhead

* Recommended reading for transport policy and practice in Penang . The Editor

Some friends from Penang sent me a bundle of documents on the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) for me to look at last week. The following is my professional opinion, as a transport economist, on what has been proposed in the PTMP document.

Basically, I am not impressed with PTMP as it does not contain any specific strategy to increase the share of the public transport split that is very low in the case of Penang. More than 90% of the work trips in Penang are performed by private cars and less than 10% are performed by public transport.

There are strong reasons why the work of transport economists is needed in the formulation, planning, evaluation and implementation of any transport plan, rather than relying solely on politicians.

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Please invert for better understanding


The incompetent leading the unwilling to do the unnecessary. 

Oops. This harsh charge has been leveled on an increasing number of occasions by people and groups across and beyond Penang who are highly dissatisfied with the  competence,  appropriateness and huge cost of the on-going “Penang Transport Master Plan”  and related infrastructure projects and measures.  Is there any validity to this charge, or is it just a case of political quibbling?  Let’s take a step back and have a look.

How competent is the PTMP and the team behind it?

A 16 November 2018 Battle of Ideas Google Survey reports more than 21,000 background references expressing different points of view of the competence, the need for further skills upgrading at all levels of the planning process,  and specific recommendations of the much-contested, long-pending and greatly behind-schedule Penang Transport Master Plan.

We invite you to have a good look at the results of this search at http://bit.ly/2zbJm9b and make up your own mind on the subject. You will find additional information on the subject in the Working Brief postings here at https://wp.me/p3GVVk-mb


* Click here — http://bit.ly/2zbQUJ2

Penang MP Poster 1


Abundant valuable background and perspective on this topic of the importance for upgrading technical and institutional competence at all levels of the state and local government can be found in the eight volume report and recommendations of the highly respected international transport consultancy, Halcrow, — https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/0B41h-Am2TpUHdVVrZ0NiVGxNUlE?tid=0B41h-Am2TpUHT25JRXlzQ1dxZE0 —

Specifically on the issue of capacity building, the substantial chapter 8.3 on Institutional Strengthening from the final Halcrow report of 13 March 2013 under the title “The Recommended Transport Master Plan Strategy — is strongly recommended as an expert view from an independent and qualified source.


Penang Alt MP - 7

Finally to fully understand the cycle of main events that took place from the beginning of  and defined the PTMP proposal, we would draw your attention to the following humorous (but accurate) three minute summary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B9o1baUaP8

Penang 3 minue video on PTMP


The individuals behind the Penang Master Plan are good, well educated and caring people.  But they have the wrong skills in this case.

The present plan and process is seriously flawed. The importance of skills and competence upgrading at all levels of the planning, policy and implementation process  cannot be exaggerated. And ever evidence points to the fact that this critical upgrading and education process is being ignored as the key actors continue to believe that the key to cutting road congestion and emissions lies in further infrastructure capacity expansion and not in TDM – Transport Demand Management — as the leading edge of expertise and performance have understood for more than a generation. Penang needs to catch up!


Your comments, criticism and eventual further references and conclusions are most welcome. You might wish to note them here, or address them by email direct to penang@ecoplan.org. Or by direct video-conference to the Skype address: newmobility.

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About the author: 

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 | http://bit.ly/2Ti8LsX | #fekbritton | https://twitter.com/ericbritton | and | https://www.linkedin.com/in/ericbritton/ Contact: climate@newmobility.org) | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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TRAFFIC IN PENANG (Count the buses please)

Penang traffic count the buses KM138 North-South Highway on the mainland

Moving cars, not people.

The Penang Transport Master Plan  — http://pgmasterplan.penang.gov.my/index.php/en/ — advertises  their repeated intention to “move people, not cars.”.  But is that what their plan is really all about?

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FB SP eb books report title

– Eric Britton, Paris. Update of 30 October 2018

Why a Watching Brief for Penang?

On 23 November 2013 I submitted the final report and recommendations to close out the first stage of my planned work as an invited adviser and critic of Penang’s transportation strategy, plans and procedures.  (See the Mission statement at  https://sustainablepenang.wordpress.com/the-mission/ ) The report was intended as a working draft for wide distribution  and vigorous critical discussion in the following months. It was entitled:


    Phase 1 Report, Brainstorming  and Policy Recommendations 

You can access the full advisory report here –  http://bit.ly/2IqZ0PO

HOLD IT!  Expected next stage not engaged. What happened?

When the report and its recommendations were apparently set aside and entirely ignored — as had been the fate of the  excellent, highly professional reports and recommendations of the Halcrow Transport Group — I decided not to let it ride and instead of turning my back on this highly dangerous “Master Plan” project chose to set up a public “Watching Brief on Sustainable Transport in Penang” . The objective of the brief is to follow and report to a wide international audience on the continuing see-saw battle between an obstinate under-qualified state government consortium and powerful lobby with a closed-door multi-billion dollar “Big Bang” (their words) program of massive infrastructure expansion, almost all parts of which would in good time succeed only in making what is already a bad situation (mainly nothing more fearful than a plain-vanilla peak hour congestion problem) significantly worse.

After noting the resounding silence in Penang as far as my analysis and recommendations were concerned, my option was to cash the client’s check, do nothing and forget Penang.  Or perhaps to set up something along the lines of an independent . .  .

Watching Brief on Penang’s evolving transport situation and disputes

The goal of this internet platform and associated social media sites then  is to support legitimate sustainable transport initiatives, critical thinking, open discussions, new ideas, consistent policy, fruitful alliances and fact-oriented discussion and anything else that might help advance the public’s understanding of the New Mobility Agenda in Penang.  The watching brief also keeps a careful eye open to identify, feed and encourage public discussion of what are almost surely in this case poor science, bad ideas, absurd proposals and  ad hoc initiatives which violate the basic precepts of the sustainability agenda.

A watching brief is a continuous, independent, and in this case open collaborative monitoring activity of progress and problems taking place in a specific sector or area. It takes a arms-length vision of the focus area and in this case is made broadly available to the public and all involved as a tool in support of Civil Society in Penang.

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Penang Forum initially mooted the idea for a public transport plan, now known as PTMP, to the Penang state government in 2008. Promoting an evidence-based policy making approach to transport planning, Penang Forum assisted the state government in engaging the international Halcrow consultancy and facilitated the consultant’s work. After months of data collection and public consultations, Halcrow drew up Recommended Transport Master Plan Strategy (‘Halcrow Plan’) featuring an extensive network of trams and BRT, the public transport component estimated to cost below RM10bn.

When the plan was nearly finalized, Halcrow was pressured to include Ewein’s Zenith–BUCG sea tunnel and 3 major highways on the island costing RM6.3 billion. The Halcrow Plan, with a projected total cost of RM27 billion, was officially endorsed by the Penang state government in May 2013.

Lacking technical resources, the state government decided to appoint a project delivery partner (PDP) to implement the Halcrow Plan. This was done through a Request for Proposal. The winning bid was submitted by SRS Consortium, whose proposal introduced new elements such as LRT, monorails and highways, departing from the Halcrow Plan in significant ways.

Initially pitched at RM27 billion, the SRS plan quickly ballooned to RM46 billion, a whopping 70% increase in project costs.

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NGOs: Don’t rush to endorse Penang Transport Master Plan

Fifteen local NGOs have cautioned Penangites not to rush to endorse the state’s mega-billion transport master plan (PTMP), saying more consultation and transparency are needed in the massive deal.

The NGOs, including Aliran and the Penang Heritage Trust, issued a joint statement giving Penangites nine major reasons why “the people of Penang should not be rushed into signing this important agreement”.

They said this while commending and expressing support on the need to prioritise public transport over the present private car-centric transport system.

Critical issues they want the state and its appointed project delivery partner SRS Consortium to address include the tremendous costs involved – currently estimated at RM40 billion.. .

“The most worrying concern is that the PTMP lacks vision, it is touted as a plan for Penang for the next 50 years yet it is trapped in 20th century technology and approach in planning,” the NGOs said.

“It proposes obsolescent solutions to Penang’s transport problems, ignoring the latest developments in mass transit planning around the world.

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