RapidPenang or RapidPlasterJob?

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busesAliran views the Federal government’s latest attempt to resolve Penang’s public transport woes by introducing RapidPenang (an arm of RapidKL) as a plaster job on a lesion that requires surgery.

The internal decay in the system has not been removed to allow any real enhancement to the quality of service or convenience for bus users.

It is disappointing that the Federal government does not hesitate to emasculate the State government by imposing this quick-fix decision on Penang. The hasty move has rendered local government plans to improve the public transport system obsolete. Whilst attempting to convince Penangites that RapidPenang is the cure for all the public transport ills in the state, the Federal government unfortunately is unable to give any undertaking that this remedy will curb ‘cowboy’ bus operators from only plying the lucrative routes in the State. Neither has it given any guarantee that RapidPenang will regularly and faithfully service unprofitable routes as a matter of public service. Instead, the government expects Penangites to believe that merely ‘complementing’ the existing system will solve the problems of a lawless system driven by uncontrolled market forces.

Aliran concedes that this gamble has had the effect of making the current rule-breaking bus operators nervous after the joy-ride they have enjoyed over the last 15 years. They have begun to realise that this ride – at the expense of long-suffering Penang bus users – may soon come to a screeching halt. Still, the importance of the rule of law and its enforcement has been completely missed out by the government, creating the impression that laws have no role in regulating “free market” forces. The government also appears to view legislation as redundant in curbing corruption in business practice.

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Is this all that the 5 January meeting involving the Citizens for Public Transport (Cepat), CVLB chief Markiman Kobiran and the Penang State government’s Dr. Teng Hock Nan has borne? If so, it was a wasted three hours, not just for Cepat but also for the CVLB and the Penang State government.

Penang Chief Minister Dr Koh Tsu Koon’s admission that the state government does not have the expertise to ensure a smooth public transport system in the state reveals his lack of vision. Will a federal solution really bring about the change that Penangites would like to see in the public transport system? Why not look towards Curitiba, Brazil, for a fine example of a locally initiated, cost-effective and efficient solution to Penang’s public transport woes (see Aliran Monthly, Vol 26, No 2 ‘Bus Rapid Transit‘ and No 3 ‘Imagine a city with 30 per cent fewer cars’)?

Cepat had requested such an efficient, affordable, eco-friendly and disabled-friendly public transport system to reduce traffic congestion and air and noise pollution as well as to enhance accessibility and mobility for all Penangites. But this request has been sidelined in favour of a top-down solution to Penang’s transport woes. There is no guarantee that the problems plaguing the state’s public transport system can be solved without the political will to rid the system of corruption and to introduce public accountability, transparency and proper planning and management.

Moreover, RapidKL’s errors in the Klang Valley seem not to have been entirely resolved, as many disabled persons, a large number of whom are wheelchair users, are still confronted with non-accessibility of public transport, thus rendering them immobile. RapidKL’s Klang Valley routes are also limited and frequently cover only the main routes while skirting those within some housing estates and missing out some LRT stations. Thus, the ease and convenience of public transport is not made available to all, even in the Klang Valley.

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Aliran is also disappointed that over the last couple of decades Penang has never been very high up the list of the federal government’s priorities in terms of projects that truly benefit the people such as improved public transport, affordable housing, parks and other public amenities. On the other hand, the federal government found billions of ringgit to establish Putrajaya while allowing Malaysia’s first city, George Town, and its surrounding areas to decay and lose their lustre over the years.

Aliran strongly urges the government to give serious thought to these problems and consult with civil society in resolving them. Bringing back elected local government would be a step in the right direction. An integrated public transport master plan – one that would include traffic-free pedestrian walkways, ferries, buses and perhaps electric trams and trains – for the whole state is an essential prerequisite. Ideally, an eco-friendly and people friendly public transport system should be planned and managed at the local level while monitoring and feedback must allow for active public participation and consultation.


Angeline Loh

Executive Committee Member,

28 February 2007

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