“We are willing to lose votes and support by implementing this project because we do not want to be a “do nothing” government,” he said in a press conference at his office today.
He said the state government had exhausted all means to implement an effective public transportation system in the state, but were unable to do so as public transport is under the purview of the federal government.
“We have proposed for the councils to buy its own fleet of buses to provide public transport but we are unable to get the approval and relevant permits from the federal government so we could not do it,” he said.
The state government had also previously proposed to pay RM10 million to RapidPenang for the company to provide free public transport during peak hours but the proposal was not officially approved as RapidPenang is under the purview of the Finance Ministry.
It is difficult to verify Lim's claims that his government through the local councils had applied for permits to run their own buses from the federal-level Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB).
Anyway, it is important to understand the historical background of what has transpired. Did the federal government force itself on the management of public transport in Penang? The answer is no.Until 2007, the public bus system in Penang was privatized to a few companies. As reported in a well written article by Anil Netto:
"The failure of Penang's privatization model mirrors the experience in the national capital Kuala Lumpur, where the public-transport system of buses and a light-rail train was privatized in piecemeal fashion to well-connected firms, which later ran up huge losses due to a lack of integration among different services and poor coordination and enforcement.
As the losses mounted, the government finally stepped in to bail out the private firms. A government-owned firm, RapidKL, eventually was tapped to take over the capital's bus and light-rail-transit services. The same firm is now set to enter Penang under the name RapidPenang, charged with revamping the public-transport system and giving the incumbent private bus operators a competitive run for their money."
The sorry state of Penang's public bus system was partially the responsibility of ex-CM Dr Koh Tsu Koon. Under his leadership, the local council had stopped providing a reliable bus service to supplement the private bus operators' routes. I used to take these buses when I was studying in primary and lower secondary in the 80's. Penang city council offered discounted bus rates for students and senior citizens.
Despite the reservation of public bus campaigners of an imported solution/firm from Kuala Lumpur (Rapid KL) coming in to fill the gap, the chief minister Dr Koh Tsu Koon had pleaded with PM Abdullah Badawi to allow RapidKL to manage the Penang bus system and integrate it with a proposed monorail system scheduled to be built over the next few years. Koh said the state government did not have the expertise to manage a public-transport system.
Anil reported that activists from the Citizens for Public Transport (Cepat), a coalition of Penang-based civil-society groups, pinned the blame for poor service on:
1. The buccaneering private operators and weak regulatory enforcement.
2. Lack of enforcement from a federal agency, Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board (CVLB), for allowing the private bus operators to flout regulations and permit poor conditions with impunity.
In fact, there are a few steps which have to be taken by any state government planning to run its own public bus system:
1. A good public transport plan which integrates all modes and forms on public transport available in the state e.g. taxis, trishaws, trains, ferries and later monorail or trams.
2. A good monitoring body at the state level with enforcement powers (likely formed by local councils) to regulate public buses and private bus operators
3. The state government needs to make a decision if privatization of public bus system should be reintroduced but with better terms, regulations and expectations
Since the nationalization of Penang's public bus system was not deliberately implemented but was done after the plea of the last chief minister, there is reason to believe that the state government can bring the federal government e.g. CVLB, SPAD and Ministry of Transport back to the negotiation table if it is able to present a solid and comprehensive plan to manage its own public bus system. In fact, the Penang city council can propose to supplement and complement Rapid Penang with additional routes and buses.
Instead of throwing a challenge at Penang voters, the current Penang CM Lim Guan Eng should provide enough evidence that his administration has done enough preparatory work to come out with a comprehensive public transport plan which can help to supplement Rapid Penang. It took DAP five years to come out with a state level blueprint - the Penang Paradigm. It has really done nothing, policy wise, over the last five years.
So far, his government has failed to convince me that it is moving in tandem with the expectations of the people. Numerous questions posed in this blog, regarding the RM6.3 billion project, have not been answered. No alternatives were provided to the people.
The only justification, that the federal government has refused to entertain the local councils application for permits to operate their own buses is difficult to digest. I would appreciate it if Lim could publish all records including full correspondences with the federal government on the permits. Perhaps some experts could give a hand to the state government to put the proposal and applications in proper order and help engage the federal government again (if BN continues to rule since PR is confident of winning the next GE) to reconsider the application.
Both ways, it is difficult to accept that CM Lim has chosen to politicize the public transport issue by linking it to the next GE. If he has made up his mind to go ahead with the RM6.3 billion project for a mere 27KM of roads and tunnel (@ RM233,333.33 per meter), he should call off all future public dialogues. It is pointless to waste anyone's time since his administration has chosen not to listen and consider other alternatives.
Lim said he is willing to lose votes to carry out the project sounds so familiar. Replace his name with another on the caption, it could well come from a leader from the regime that so many of you are trying to pull down.
A dare is a dare. So be it. CM Lim will lose my vote for the Tanjung Bungah state constituency. Then again, I am just a small fish in DAP's big pond. However, there could be many more small fishes like me among the silent majority. Together we could make a different.
To some, Lim's dare is a manifestation of his resolute leadership. To others, it could be a sign of power arrogance, over confidence and inflated ego. I leave it to Lim's own wisdom to decide if he is doing the right thing.