Reclaiming our streets: Towards sustainable transport

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As part of a new vision for Malaysia, some are already imagining a changed physical landscape that would involve the people reclaiming our streets from cars. Jeyakumar Devaraj reports.

sustainable-transport

A 3.5-hour long forum was organised in Penang by the Working Group on Public Transport (WGPT) and Penang Forum on 14 September 2013 at the Caring Society Complex in Penang.

About 100 people attended this seminar which was chaired by Ahmad Chik, a steering committee member of the Penang Forum.

Chow Kon Yeow, Penang exco member for local government, traffic management and flood mitigation, and Gurmit Singh, chairman of the Centre for Environment, Technology & Development, Malaysia (Cetdem) gave keynote speeches.

Then Sungai Siput MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, Khu Li Fan, a wheelchair user who is a masters student at USM, and Lim Thean Heng, an engineer, pastor and chief coordinator of the Penang Master Transport Plan, spoke as panellists.

Ahmad put up on the screen the list of recommendations from the PJ forum (held on 3 November 2012) at the start of the 90-minute question time. He went through the PJ recommendations one by one asking for comments and if anyone disagreed.

The comments and additions are given below.

The recommendations of the People’s Forum in PJ:

  1. A comprehensive and affordable public transport system should be a national priority.
  2. The government should invest to build up the public transport system and then use education, zoning regulations and price mechanisms to discourage private transport and decongest our roads and cities.
  3. The development of the public transport system should be financed by the government as this would ensure it is affordable.
  4. The public transport system should be disabled-friendly as well as senior citizen-friendly.
  5. The public transport system should be run as democratic non-profit trusts on a regional basis, with the participation of elected members of the local communities, transport workers and local government.
  6. A bus-based public transport system should be improved and promoted as it is much cheaper and faster to implement than MRTs.
  7. The discouraging of private cars and the creation of a network of dedicated bus lanes in our cities should be a key strategy of the transport plan for our country.
  8. Peoples’ participation in determining the future of public transport in Malaysia should be encouraged.
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Comments/additions from the participants of the Penang sustainable transport forum, 14 September 2013

1. A comprehensive and affordable public transport system should be a national priority.

– All agreed by show of hands.

2. The government should invest to build up the public transport system, and then use education, zoning regulations and price mechanisms to discourage private transport and decongest our roads and cities.

– The word “then” should be dropped. The education should start now, not wait until the public transport system is up and running. Education should also highlight the link between the use of public transport and the environment, apart from alleviating the problems of traffic congestion in high population density areas. Further, the use of public transport and non-motorised vehicles, may also help reduce the spiralling numbers of fatal road accidents.

3. The development and running of the public transport system should be financed by the government as this would ensure it is affordable and serve all areas where it is needed, especially on social routes that may not be financially profitable.

– Private-public cooperative endeavours are okay. But the terms must be well negotiated so there is no element of cronyism. Should not rule out private sector participation completely. There should be open tender and overall transparency in these cooperative endeavours.

– Should not be completely free. There should be some small charges. Bus and other public transport fares should be subsidised by the government and money collected should go into investing in the maintenance and improvement of public transport systems, apart from daily operating costs i.e. salaries for drivers and staff, etc.

4. The public transport system should be disabled-friendly as well as senior citizen-friendly.

– The term “public transport system” should include non-motorised transport such as bicycles (bicycles for rent should be made available at various locations in the city so that people can move around town on bikes). Attendees were asked if they would consider cycling, if there were proper and safe cycle paths around the city. A show of hands indicated that a number were willing to do so if cycling was made safe.

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– The term “public transport system” should also include pedestrian walkways. (There was a lot of criticism that these have been built without keeping in mind the needs of the disabled – “got head, no tail; got tail no head; got no head or tail; got half a heart, got no heart”, etc). Private citizens should not be allowed to alter or adapt public walkways to their desires and individual needs, e.g. creating gardens on public grass verges or making ramps for the loading of goods. Penalties should be imposed for obstruction of public walkways. Walkways should also be made disabled friendly by imposing standard requirements for walkways.

– “Disabled friendly” is vague. Specify that it should follow “universal design”. (Apparently there is a specific set of specifications detailed under this concept of “universal design” – Maniam of the Penang Transport Council offered to help us with this.)

– Should specify “and safe”. Lighting, CCTV etc as now it is not safe for women to wait in some bus stops.

– Should include the concept of the last mile. Some mode of the public transport system must take the traveller to within 100 metres of his destination. At present, people often need to walk the last mile to their destination.

5. The public transport system should be run as democratic non-profit trusts on a regional basis, with the participation of elected members of the local communities, transport workers and local government.

– Accepted.
– Should specify that the planning and control of public transport be decentralised to the states and municipalities.

6. A bus-based public transport system should be improved and promoted as it is much cheaper and faster to implement than MRTs. This improvement should be the start of developing a better, more efficient and affordable public transport system for the future, where other modes of public transport e.g. city trams and water transport should be developed.

– Should not exclude other cost-effective modes of transport such as trams and bicycles.

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– May still need MRTs to take people off the road. (At present only about 5 per cent of trips in Penang is by public transport. Even if that increased to 40 per cent by 2030, the natural increase in population would still render the existing roads very congested.)

– Need to use smaller buses for less busy routes and small streets

– Electric powered tut-tuts would be a great option for the “last mile”.

– “Connectivity” should be emphasised.

– Timeliness is important. If people can’t get to places in a reasonable time, then they would not want to use the public transport. There should be more “park and ride” areas in cities and suburbs, to increase the use of public transport from various locations. This could help decongest traffic in city centres from the suburbs and out of the city. There could also be road closures and “pedestrian only” areas within city centres.

7. The discouraging of private cars and the creation of a network of dedicated bus lanes in our cities should be a key strategy of the transport plan for our country.

– Should only do this after the public transport system is improved. (I pointed out that this is contrary with the comment made under item “2” earlier”. The consensus was that education should start now, but penalties against car users should only be started after public transport is improved.)

– A man who worked in the transport authority in Singapore said we should study the Singapore experience. Apparently the creation of dedicated bus lanes worsened traffic congestion in some areas. This requires good co-ordination and strategic planning of public transport hubs. A larger number of hubs in suburban and rural areas may alleviate this problem.

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najib manaukau
5 Dec 2013 7.53am

Ask the egregious Mahathir why K.L. is in a shamble to day ? He was the planner of the mess and shamble of this city especially whenever it rains the entire city’s traffic comes to a gridlock.
It was all done just so to accommodate some of his projects, he is only a doctor and what does he know about city planning.
But he was the ‘lord’ of all he surveyed, anyone who dared to voice his objection ….
He wanted to be the master of this country and nothing less is acceptable ! Ask the city planners, their recommendations are not only ignored and so were their recommended builders and why ? Only the egregious Mahathir’s ideas and what he wanted were implemented. If you have doubts of what I have said go and ask them. These are the results of his interfering and suggestions and also who were the contractors behind most, if not all, the mega projects that are standing in K.L. to day.