Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Penang Public Bus System - A Monument of Shame

In a Malaysiakini article, the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB) chairperson Markiman Kobiran has been told to resign if he is not serious abut tackling the transport woes in Penang. The demand was made by the Penang-based Citizens for Public Transport Coalition (Cepat). Cepat member Dr Choong Sim Poey said despite two revamps - including tighter conditions and regulations for bus operators as well as funding to purchase additional buses - the situation has only deteriorated.

Earlier this year, the state government had revamped the public bus route in Penang in an attempt to improve its service. However, the situation turned worse after the 'overhaul'. Once I was left stranded at the Sungai Nibong bus terminal for nearly 2 hours waiting for a connecting bus to Komtar. As usual when people are at their lowest ebb, some people will turn up to take advantage of their helplessness. I was offered a 'kereta sapu' trip to Komtar at a rate of RM12.

A trackback search done at the Star Online website shows that the issue has been left outstanding since March this year.

On 22nd March this year, the state government said all 125 stage buses and 69 minibuses on the island will be tested for road worthiness before they are allowed to ply the streets when the state’s restructured public bus system starts operation on April 1. State Local Government and Traffic Mana-gement Committee chairman Dr Teng Hock Nan even warned that only vehicles that were in satisfactory condition would be allowed on the streets come April 1. Any bus found “unfit” would be taken off the road.

Until recently, we can still find buses in poor condition on the road. Penang Watch coordinator Ong Boon Keong said bus drivers and operators were still openly flouting the regulations despite the CVLB Act 1987 providing for punishment of infringements with fines up to RM2,000 and maximum six months imprisonment or both. “There’s non-compliance of the rules on such a massive scale and they’re getting away with it all,” he noted.

Some believe that a 'rentier culture' in public transport is flourishing. They allege that public transport licence holders stand to earn handsome commissions by subcontracting their licences to operators -- some of whom may be incompetent -- who are allowed to run their services largely unencumbered by any regulations or enforcement.

So bad is public transport that hundreds of thousands of Malaysians opt for their own motorcycles and cars. In Penang alone, there are some 1.5 million registered motor vehicles for a population of 1.5 million, with the registration rate increasing by 9.5 percent annually.

But there is a limit to road space as vehicles rapidly clog existing roads. Over the Chinese (lunar) New Year holidays last week, out-of-town motorists poured into the island city, choking up main arteries leading to the city and to tourist centres. Unlike the capital of Kuala Lumpur, Penang does not have a light rail transit system although the government resurrects talk of improved public transport each time an election draws near.

A columnist at a local newspaper lamented how he dreaded to go back to Penang during festive season. As a fellow Penangite, I can understand his disappointment. When I first came back from UK late 2004 and without a private car, I was forced to take the public transport for 3 months. Those had been 3 agonising months.

In April, the Paya Terubong assembly- man Dr Loh Hock Hun said people should not demand changes to the system so soon without giving it a chance to be effective. It is time that he eats back his words.

We have given the government almost a decade to fix the problem, not 10 days and not 4 days. It is timely that the people of Penang demand a change. Back in Penang this weekend, I spoke to a few friends and relatives and some of the most appolitical amongst them are talking about a change. They are just fed up!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What is new about Dr Teng Hock Nan ? Can you help me to name a few project whereby he implemented successfully and drive for the correct improvement result ?

I think he is more worried about losing votes for himself than to think of doing what is right !!! Show him the way OUT....