Buses wanted

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Penangites are fed up with empty promises to improve public transport, says Angeline Loh. Theirdisappointment stretches from Penang to Putrajaya, where the Prime Minister seems to have forgotten his home state.

Penang local government, traffic management, information and community relations chairman Dr. Teng Hock Nam’s statement of 6 February 2006 in theSun only drew a knowing smile from most bus users. We have heard such rhetorical promises before. We expect these grand plans to take such a long time; they’ll probably be forgotten along the way. Or familiar and usual excuses will be used to pacify the public like “…they are still awaiting approval” or “..still being processed…” or, even more likely, words to the effect that “it is not our fault, we can’t do anything about it as the Federal Government has no time to see to Penang’s problems”. The normal rhetorical, insincere answers we’ve heard for umpteen years. Sorry, that’s old hat to us, Datuk Teng.

So what is the Penang state government in office for? Are they there to suck up our taxes, sit in their comfortable chairs in air-con offices, ride in their up-market, chauffer-driven cars and cause traffic jams while the rakyat sweat it out in our mobile odorous ‘saunas’? Further, to go on “cuti sambil belajar” (‘study’ junkets) to foreign countries using our hard-earned money – only to return home refreshed but with no fresh knowledge to implement improvements to our state? We understand your habit of passing the buck when you don’t mean to do anything. We have, in our extreme patience, hoped you would stop that bad habit. Yet you have not learned, and we have been a timid electorate.

Fooled on April Fool’s Day

To tell us that the state government has submitted proposals to the CVLB in Sungai Petani, Kedah, certainly does not impress us, as anyone with average intelligence, like us lowly bus users, wonder why it should be in a different state. Looks like the Penang state government is not-in-charge of Penang anymore – and we have not been informed of this fact or of this strange set up in transport management in our state.

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Much time has passed since that 6 February statement and our ears have rung with the same repetitive responses only with a few variations of a promise to get things right on April Fool’s Day this year. We were predictably fooled on that day and for the rest of the month and the months after, as the improvement was only negligible, imperceptible, almost invisible. In fact, the so-called revamp, made things worse. So, Dr Teng, how long do you think you can go on with this game?

The alteration of routes, raised fares and sign posting for stops has been too cosmetic for even feeble applause from the public. Since their setting up, these posts have already gone rusty and will soon collapse. It shows how seriously the state government takes public complaints. They seem to take the electorate as seriously as the quality of those cheap, low-quality iron signposts.

It is now the middle of the year 2006 and the Gerakan-led Penang State government will have to face the music of the general elections in two years’ time. So, after much hassling from the local NGOs, which have threatened to take legal action against the CVLB, you suddenly turned contrite. On the face of it, ‘Joe Public’ would think you’ve seen the light and admitted to only scraping the surface of our public transport problem. Yet, can we trust that apparent contrition you exhibit? It remains to be seen.

There are no guarantees to rout out abuse in the tendering of bus services, no concrete plans for an improved system or abolition of an obsolete and unworkable one, no visible effort to make public transport affordable – despite the numerous suggestions and proposals by various, good-intentioned, quarters who want an upgraded, decent and affordable public transport system.

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Those were the days…

When we look back at the golden past of our beloved state, what do we see? We see a clean, unpolluted, island covered in lush greenery and clear, clean waters lapping at our shores. We see, a well-planned system of trams and trolley buses in the city centre running from the harbour (the hub of business life) to the beautiful rolling, unblemished countryside. There was little vehicular traffic and pedestrians crisscrossed the roads without hurry or worry of being knocked down by such traffic.

We had such an interesting and vibrant city centre, bustling in the daytime with working people, shoppers and tourists, here to taste the richness of our multicultural life. When the sun went down, the streets would be ablaze with lights from shops, restaurants, roadside stalls, cinemas and other entertainment outlets. The nightlife was just as vibrant and bustling as the day life. Those were wonderful days.

What became of our beautiful, vibrant citystate? What happened to our mainland family whose similarly easy going lives have been swamped with inner-city type problems of high crime rates and industrial encroachment, with the added hardship of an erratic and whimsical public transport system, furthering the dereliction of rural mainland Penang.

The city centre has died due to neglect by the state government. With the absence of a decent public transport system, the city centre, the once vibrant hub of business life, is now relegated to an inner city back-alley, pocked-marked with lonely and dark, deserted side streets, sleazy hotels and darkened shop-door ways in the shadows.

The state government has barely awoken from its slumber and sloth. With no better hope to give to Penangites, it now promises to take charge of the public transport system in our state. It has a very short record of actually delivering what it has promised. We don’t hang on your words anymore, your promises have become worthless to us. Many of the humble public simply nod and say, “can’t expect anything-lah, gomen don’t care, tidak apa, tak boleh harap.”

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Your promise was proven empty as before, by the Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Minister on 14 July, when the Federal Government refused to allow you to do anything about our public transport problems. Whatever feeble hope we had in you was dashed. What did you do in the face of that refusal? You metaphorically threw up your hands and shrugged your shoulders in a futile gesture. So we can’t do anything about that because the federal government says, “No”.

Thus, you were unwilling and too afraid to demand that the CVLB do its job. You expect us to take the Minister and the CVLB at their word when Penang has been forgotten by them for the past 10 years? Their promises seem as flimsy as yours and worse still they are totally ignorant of the difficulties faced by Penangites in Penang. Your silence speaks volumes of your apathy towards us, the people of Penang!

Our disappointment stretches from Penang to Putrajaya, where our Prime Minister has also forgotten his home state. So, if we can’t hope for a better future with you at the helm, what is the next commonsense thing to do? We have to reconsider our choice of political parties next time round. You have already had your chance and pushed your luck too far. At least, one individual knows where to put her vote in the next elections.

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