Taking Penangites for a ride

10 Apr 2019 / 16:27 H.

ON the one hand the Penang government says it wants to ease traffic congestion in Penang, and on the other it wants to build more roads for more vehicles. Has building more roads ever solved traffic problems in other cities? Following the debate and public meetings on this grandiose project, I am left wondering whether Penangites are being taken for a ride. For the past four decades or more the Klang Valley has seen building of roads, by-passes, under-passes, flyovers and elevated highways. But traffic congestion has become worse with many more cars creating long traffic jams at peak hours – the very problem they were built to solve!

Many people need to leave their homes by 6am or earlier and only get back home around 8pm. What kind of life are they living? A young woman in my neighbourhood went to work in KL for a good salary of RM8,000 plus, not including bonus. Hardly a year passed and she was back. Why? She said it was not worth the money to stay in a place where life was so stressful.

Promoting this traffic solution like high-pressure salespersons, the Penang government is selling the picture that Penangites will have a better life with the new highways running through the hills and under the sea.

Uninformed people get mesmerised by such talk and beautiful posters which create a “want” for such things. The touted benefits are far from the truth as the “good life” of zooming from one point to another will be extremely short, just four years.

If the construction of the roads and tunnels were to start in 2019, the completion date will be 2026, ie seven years later.

And according to the EIA report, these new roads will reach full capacity by 2030. That is a mere four years! The cost, mind you, is RM8 billion. That works out to RM2 billion a year to enjoy “smooth” driving for a mere four years! What sort of economics is this? And what happens after that? A problem is created for the next round of politicians to “solve”! And so, the cycle will go on being repeated.

For seven years the contractors will be laughing to the bank. After that Penangites will be laughing on the new roads for just four years, and then back to crying again on congested roads!

Many other cities in the world have worse traffic congestion compared to Penang Island. They are not clamouring to build more roads, flyovers, etc. They consider them obsolete technology, as there is no history that they solve traffic congestion created by the ever increasing numbers of motor vehicles.

Instead, they are going for new technology like trackless trams, electric buses running at one- or two-minute intervals on bus lanes, providing bicycle lanes, clearing streets of vehicles. And many people are taking to cycling in some of cities.

Cycling should be the “in” thing in small cities like George Town and suburbs like Bayan Baru. I’m sure a lot of people would take to it if there are proper lanes separated from traffic for safety’s sake. Almost every weekend I see hundreds of cyclists riding from the city and other urban areas to Balik Pulau and beyond.

If the number of vehicles on roads is reduced and there are dedicated bicycle lanes to ensure safety, I’m sure many people will be happy to cycle.

This brings us to the pressing question as to why the politicians are hell bent on spending billions on something that is going to be so short lived?

Their claims that the people are supportive of the projects are an eye-wash as it is from people with vested interests and the mesmerised uninformed.

If even professionals can fall victim to scams and frauds, similarly ordinary people can be taken for a ride about the benefits of the proposed roads and tunnels with descriptions like “dramatic time reduction” (about 20 minutes saving at most from North of the Island to the airport!).

So, to think of it, the politicians seem to be working for the benefit of construction companies which advise them that more roads and tunnels are needed to solve traffic problems.

Penang’s leaders should not be stubborn about their idea of solving the traffic problems. They are not the know-alls on this matter and if their consultants are the construction and development companies, then there is a serious conflict of interest.

The attitude that as elected persons it is their prerogative to do as they please must change. Surely there are more knowledgeable people in society, without vested interests, who can also give ideas, perhaps better ones, than the ideas they have with the help of vested interest parties.

Independent parties who have no monetary gains to make, or any other benefits to gain from any plans or projects of the state government, should be the ones those in power should be giving a serious ear to. Otherwise the public should not be blamed if they feel there might be some “udang sebalik batu”.

Ravinder Singh

Penang

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