Thursday, March 21, 2013

Penang Forum Opposes Tunnel Vision

The Penang Forum Steering Committee opposes the proposed road-based undersea tunnel and the state government’s emphasis on highway construction over improvements in public transport.

(The tunnel would be the fourth cross-channel link, after the ferries and the first and second Penang bridges.)

There are just too many unanswered questions (see the list below) that throw the viability of this mega project into doubt.

While it is true that public transport comes under the jurisdiction of the federal government, we feel that ‘do-the-wrong-thing’ approach (promoting dependency on private motor vehicles over the long term) is worse than the ‘do-nothing’ approach.

A more sensible and visionary approach would be to come up with a comprehensive plan for sustainable transport while educating the public and pressuring the federal government to realise that change.

It is true that the federal government now has overbearing jurisdiction over public transport but that may not be the case if there is a change of government in the coming general election or the one after that. Jurisdiction over public transport would then be decentralised.

In the meantime, the state government should lay the ground work for integrated sustainable public sustainable transport in the state. The state government can do the following now:

  • Kick off a campaign to promote the widespread use of public transport among ordinary commuters. State government leaders could show leadership by example by taking the bus or cycling to work wherever possible.
  • Prevent illegal parking (by clamping) to decongest key routes so that bus lanes can be created along certain stretches. A trial run could be carried out at Burma Road, for instance. These bus lanes may also be used by taxis, emergency vehicles and multi-occupancy vehicles.
  • Buy RapidPenang season tickets in bulk and distribute them to target groups such as school children, working adults and senior citizens. Alternatively, the state government could provide full or partial reimbursements to those who show proof of purchase of these season tickets.
The public can be enlisted to do the following:
  • Pressure the federal government through petitions and letter-writing campaigns to increase the number of buses in the state and decentralise public transport decision-making.
  • Turn the quest for improved public transport in the state into a major general election campaign issue.
  • Take public transport to work at least once a week for a start.
Here are our reasons for opposing the tunnel project and our reservations about the highway building spree.


About the vision:

Shouldn’t important public policies be based on evidence and analysis?
Will building more roads solve traffic problems?

Is the public being given an alternative based on sustainable transport?

Are we moving to the 21st century or moving back to the 20th century with the state government’s emphasis on building infrastructure for private motor vehicles?
Does creating dependency on private transport help the poor?

About the process of making public policy

The formal agreement for the (Transport Masterplan) TMP was signed in mid 2011. In the same week, the CM announced the signing of MOUs for four major road projects with Chinese companies. Does it make sense to have the solution before the study has started? Does this not ignore evidenced based analysis and policies?

Concurrent negotiations for the tunnel and highway projects started in 2011 held while the TMP study was underway. Why were awards for the projects given out even before the TMP is finalised and made public? Doesn’t this pre-empt the significance of the report’s recommendations?

TMP calls for a balanced approach to solving transport problems. It suggested short and medium term measures and recommended major road construction as longer term solutions commencing after the short/medium-term measures. Are we putting the cart before the horse by reversing the priorities suggested in the TMP?

Have there been independent feasibility studies, cost benefit analysis, traffic demand simulation etc done for ALL the four projects before they were tendered? Isn’t it standard best practice to conduct such studies BEFORE tender and award, rather than after?

The TMP is based on the assumption that the population will be 2.5m by 2030 and that by this time a sea tunnel may be justified. The Department of Statistics released a population projection last year which projects a population of 1.8 million by 2030. It appears that Halcrow has not done any modelling of the population; they have just assumed historical growth rates will continue, which would suggest that the tunnel will not be required even by 2030.

How is the public expected to provide meaningful feedback when they are hazy about the precise alignment of the routes? All the precise proposed alignments should be displayed to the public for their comments. The state government should practice transparency especially now that the Freedom of Information Act has been passed?

About the tender

If there was an MOU with the China government, how can there be an open tender? Is that why only two bids were received for the tunnel - both involving firms from China? Why were there no other bids from other countries? Because of the earlier MOU? If so, is this really an open tender?

Who are the parties behind the three small local companies that were in the winning tender bid? Has there been an evaluation to look into their track record and expertise? Do these companies have any political connections?

What kind of performance bonds will the local companies give?
Can the state government under the competency, accountability and transparency (CAT) policy make publicly available all the tender documents and acceptances and the decisions of the tender award.

About the reclaimed land

What are the plans for the 110 acres of land; how is the use of this land going to contribute to or solve some of our existing problems. Is it going to add to traffic congestion? Is it going to address shortages in public space and how is it going to influence the property market and the price of housing. How much affordable housing will be built on this land?

Who is going to develop the land - the local companies within the consortium, the China companies or an external developer? If so, who is the developer and the contractors and do they have any political connections?

Can the state government guarantee that there will be a really independent detailed environmental impact assessment for this land? Can it also guarantee that there will be a reliable independentt hydrological study for the entire island and mainland?
What is the market value and gross development value of the reclaimed land? Where exactly is this located?

The financial considerations

Who will pay for the cost of acquisition of private lands that are in the way of the proposed highways?

How was it decided to award 110 acres of reclaimed land to the project proponents along with a 30-year concession for tolls? Was there a financial projection of future revenue for both the reclaimed land and the tunnel toll collection? If so, how many billions in profit is the consortium estimated to make? If there is no financial projection, why not and how was it decided to award them reclaimed land in addition to a 30-year tunnel toll concession?

Misguided priorities

The TMP puts public transport at a much higher priority than the tunnel. In fact, the TMP consultants diplomatically (given that the tunnel was probably the state government’s idea) suggested that the tunnel would only be something to consider for 2030 and beyond. Why is this being brought forward to “2025-2030” and even earlier now?

If a tunnel or other cross-channel link is necessary, shouldn’t it be a rail link? A cross-channel rail link is more important given the completion of the dual tracking to Butterworth and the future high-speed rail linking Singapore to KL and Penang.

Why is the north coast pair road from Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bunga a priority now? Is it being driven by property development considerations? According to the TMP (and it’s clear to everybody), the Outer Bypass between Farlim and Tun Lim Expressway should be built first instead of the north coast pair road. Why is the state government putting it the other way round?

Focusing on building roads without addressing the demand for road use will NOT solve the problem. In fact, it might worsen the problem. Have all the highways, tunnels and flyovers in KL and Bangkok solved traffic congestion? If not, why are we going down that path?

There are two sides to the equation of traffic problem: the Supply Side (building more roads) and the Demand Side (the demand for those roads caused by more vehicles). What is being done to tackle the rising demand for motor vehicles and road space?

Do we realise that greenhouse gas emissions from road transport is one of the biggest contributors to global warming? How are more highways and a road-based tunnel compatible with the state government’s slogan of ‘Cleaner, greener Penang’? Shouldn’t we be laying the ground work for sustainable public transport now?

The Penang Forum is a coalition of progressive public-interest civil society groups based in Penang, Malaysia.


proud2bmalaysian said...

I sense that the questions revolve largely on who and how done. More info sought so people can better appreciate why it is done.

No consultant worth his salt will commit what is needed beyond a 3 year prediction. The tunnel is way beyond 10 years. The state govt feels this can be a legacy perhaps. So it may not be a statistics based decision but a legacy desire to make Penang a talking point around the region.

Anyway, cars and more cars will be around. Forget about greenhouse gases and carbon emission. Cars will improve over time with electric and other technology and will be cleaner into the future.

Rail is a federal govt jurisdiction so a tunnel for rail is out of the question obviously.

Singapore built the PIE and east coast highway around the city center on reclaimed land to avoid disturbing existing infra. Maybe LGE is taking a lesson from them.

Anyway, whether it be a tunnel or another bridge (presumably a bridge is not possible hence the tunnel) or better ferry services, do something useful and right and don't allow for corruption to taint the project.

Anonymous said...

What if most of the Penangites approve this projects? Would you still object instead?

Khoo Kay Peng said...

Anon 1.11pm,

There is only one way to find out. Hold a referendum.

Anonymous said...

The people who approves the projects are usually those who are aligned with LGE or the cybertroopers.

The Environmentalists are against due to the additional vehicles on the road, the Economists are against due too many questions unanswered, those who are the real Penangites are againsts as this is not the lifestyle that they are seeking.

Who are supportive of this project then ? The developers who will benefit or those indirectly benefit with the projects ?

Remember, PORR was being shot down and now we are adding many, many more PORR. PGCC was being shot down and we are also adding more PGCC with the many highrise building surrounding.

FenceSitter said...

BRT is the answer for Penang in this short term (1 to 10yrs). For long term, look into MRT. Starts with special bus lane, control traffic flow, incentive for those who use public transport. Elevated BRT can be completed within a short period of starts moving and less talking, LGE.

Anonymous said...

Dear BAF
Some Pakatan fanatic complained about the federal government (BUMNO) refusal to allow free bus services and so on is the reason why DAP has to build that ultra expensive tunnel.

So this is what I was thinking:

Since the DAP led Penang government can have the funds to build undersea tunnels, then why not they use the money to provide FREE bus services on their own instead? Why must it involve the good for nothing federal government who also refuse to allow FREE water and WIFI?

And since the traffic is horrendous in Penang, then why wouldn't the Penang kias start adopting car pooling habits to minimize the congestions? What about building more bicycle lanes?

There are more better alternatives than building super expensive tunnels, I thought that Chinese are more smarter or sibeh KIAM SAP on cutting down expenditures.

Anonymous said...

Obviously Penang’s traffics congestion is one of the major problems troubling Penangites daily apart from the over buildings made worst by unscrupulous developers intruding into the hills to build condominiums. Certainly Penang needs a prudent and farsighted approach to deal such dire situation for a sustainable and manageable growth.

Penang Island has limited space to cope with the increasing vehicles volume. By building more links to the mainland makes it easier and convenient to bring more vehicles into the island will only contributes to the already congested roads worsening the problems. And by building more roads only shift the traffic congestion to from one place to another.

To solve the traffic congestion problems in Penang Island, the key is to take vehicles off the road. An efficient transport system make up MRT integrated with buses will certainly do the job and this is the solution. Not only will that solve the traffic congestion problem, it will also reduce the air pollution, less death cause by accident and less stress while driving on the road as the same time modernist Penang.

After all the State Government is talking about a Cleaner and Greener Penang, going Green is about being efficient and effectual and not being wasteful and uneconomical. The latter is precisely what the Penang State Government is doing contradicting every aspects of what they are preaching.

Anonymous said...

What's the hangup?? You've already indicated the present state government will not be getting your vote. Don't you think it sounds like a broken record continuing delving on the issue (Oops!! sorry, it is your blog-site). A referendum is just a waste of resources. LGE has stated that he is using the project as his election platform. Let the public decides. I have the confidence in Penangites to make the right decision. Your scatter-gun approach used to justify your views - some have found the target (ie, transparency, environment impact assessment, etc) but unfortunately some are simply consultant/purists talks. I do not have to go over them again, they are well canvassed by others. BTW I presume you are also not voting for BN as they have shifted stance and is now giving partial support to the project (how sad!!). I visit Penang once every year. I have seen the changes our the last five years. Rather than shooting oneself on the foot on one issue (admittedly a big project)don't you think it is better to take a wider picture.

kiawin said...

Dear Fence Sitter,

Elevated BRT likely will elevate the traffic congestion in the Island.

On top of that, penang roads are rather narrow and packed. Not easy to squeeze spots for Elevated BRT, unlike newer township like Sunway.

Anonymous said...

So Mr Khoo, who do you represent? Did you stand for election? The people making the current proposal live and die by what they do. Do you? OK, if you think that Referendum is the way, then can we do this? If the majority disagree, the project is stopped and the people behind this project would lose their money and the government would probably not get re elected.
If the majority agrees and the project goes ahead, which means that you lose...will you then close-up your business and get the hell out of Penang? Then it would be fair right?
You talk and protest but you have don't risk anything! So tell us Mr Khoo will you take a hike if people disagree with you?
Talk is cheap consultant!

Anonymous said...

Anon 7.44 AM

To hijack the results of coming election as endorsement by the people to build the undersea tunnel is certainly not appropriate. Many people who would vote against BN also against the undersea tunnel, by resorting to such devious means show the desperation of Lim Guan Eng that he will do everything and anything to get the wasteful project through. We have doubts that these is the best interest of Penang States and the people.

Khoo Kay Peng said...

Anon 7.44am,

Why are you so worried? If LGE wants to use the next GE as a referendum for this project, more people should be told of his intention. I am just doing my part to ensure that Penangites who want a long term solution to congestion problem and to preserve the iconic Gurney Drive realize that this GE would be used to gauge their support.

It is a visitor like who does not want to see a bigger picture. Many of us face daily dilemma over politicians who refused to see the importance to stop bickering and help to solve our problem. This is a clear cut example. While I applaud the CM on other issues, I have my right to remind that we should not be victims of a failed political system created by egoistic politicians. There is a time to fight and there is a time to collaborate for greater good.

Whichever way I would vote is none of your business but I shall see it right to ensure that any government of the day listen to the people.

It is good that you acknowledged some of my points are well on target and these are very critical points! I am sure if this is a BN state government, a once a year visitor like you would have demanded that they be chopped/brought down. Stop this silly party worshipping!

Khoo Kay Peng said...

Anon 12.33am,

My question back to you. Where do you stand? If you stand on the PR/DAP side, I would like to know is this the kind of politics you are supporting? It sounds very familiar. Remember some silly UMNO guys who told the Chinese to go back to China if they were not happy with the government? You are echoing their sentiment.

Talk is cheap too and you are a good practitioner here. This is democracy and since our CM Lim proposed a chance for people to decide on the project what other way there is but to hold a referendum?

Do I need to stand for an election to be able to voice out my choice, my opinion and my preference? If politicians are not willing to take a risk, they should not be in politics. If LGE dares the people, he has to be ready to accept the verdict.

What else is possible in a democracy?

Penangites are facing the risk of poor policy decisions. It is childish, crude and disrespectful for you to suggest that we do not face any risk if we are not participating in the electoral process. Imagine the traffic jam, discomfort of having to deal with major construction work over the next 20 years, a lost of a scenic icon in Gurney Drive and increase traffic volume around Tanjung Pinang, Kelawei. Gurney Drive etc?

Why are you attacking me on the referendum idea? It was suggested by the CM. How else can the people decide (1.6 million) if it is not through a referendum? The number of voters in GE is hardly half of the number.

Anonymous said...

China firm might have done some studies. how many people in Penang during peak hours. past figures till 2012. project the figure 10-25 years from. the report must have satisfied the state govt