Speech by Chief Minister of Penang
MICCI Luncheon – Tilting the Balance from Private to Public Transportation
16 October 2019, St Giles Hotel
Ladies and gentlemen, today’s subject is a very serious and interesting one indeed.
Tilting the balance from private to public transportation may be an uphill task, but it is never impossible. Through the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), the Penang government has set a mode share target of 40% for public transport and 60% for private vehicles, which, is the same mode share target set by the federal government. Although the 40% target may be way below the percentage set by many other cities, we must bear in mind that Penang is currently starting from a base point of less than 10% public transport mode share.
An act of simply considering the provision of public transportation is insufficient to tilt the balance because this is closely related to our local culture and perception. In Malaysia, a car does not necessarily equate to better quality of life, but a car is definitely deemed as a symbol of wealth and social status. In fact, it has always been an argument that a private vehicle is necessary because of the lack public transportation and harsh weather conditions which deter the will to walk or cycle.
The matter can be further proven through statistics where Malaysia is ranked third highest in the world for car ownership with 84% of households in Malaysia owning a car or more. If you further examine our national statistics for new vehicle registrations, there are at least 40,000 new private motorcycles and new private car registered each month, nationwide between October 2018 to April 2019. On the other hand, during the same period, the number of new public transportation vehicles registered nationwide totalled only at 4,964 where 11% of these were new registrations for public buses and the remaining were mainly taxis and private hire vehicles.
A common perception is that young graduates upon getting their first job should consider taking up a loan to own a vehicle for their convenience and ease travelling to work and other purposes. It clearly shows that the preference for, and the reliance on private vehicles supersedes the consideration to use public transportation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I mentioned earlier, tilting the balance is an uphill task. It is simply because it cannot be solved just by merely providing a comprehensive public transportation network with its respective last-mile connection as, it requires a change in personal lifestyle choices as well as in the way private vehicles are managed and monitored in the country.
A recent study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Green Transportation in George Town suggested several measures that are required to improve traffic flow in George Town. Among the suggestions were a common dedicated priority lane for public transportation and the enhancing of the facilities for walking as well as cycling. Another suggestion that I find interesting is about changes to be made for a systematic management of both on-street and off-street parking. It plainly stated that the rate of on-street parking charges should be a direct reflection of the land value. The higher the land value, the higher the on-street parking charges should be.
According to the consultants, a higher on-street parking rate will effectively reduce the driver’s time spent behind the wheel as it induces changes in them to directly head to off-street parking complexes instead of looking for a relatively cheaper on-street parking. Secondly, significantly higher on-street and off-street parking charges in George Town will deter people from driving into George Town and instead raise the preference for the already available Central Area Transit buses.
In order for this to really work, an overhaul is required of current on-street parking charge rates—by location for instance and synced to other off-street parking complexes. This will be one of the many steps that can be taken to help tilt the reliance on private vehicles towards the preference for public transportation. It will definitely help in reducing the total number of vehicles in the city and additionally improve the air quality in the urban environment for a healthier environment for the public.
It is clear that shifting the reliance of private vehicles to public transportation has more pros than cons to the economy. Public transportation is therefore a service that the public sector must invest in, even as we restructure the current traffic management system into a more effective mechanism. My Penang2030 vision being about building a Family-focused Green and Smart State that Inspires the Nation emphasises on the importance of strengthening the mobility and connectivity infrastructure, having a balanced spatial planning and the integration of municipal services with smart technologies to assist in areas of data collection, monitoring, enforcement and reassessment of the proposed measures for improvement.
The number of traffic enforcers on the street may be limited, but we can complement the function using technology such as CCTV and edge computing. Digital Penang Corporation, the new statutory board that The Penang State Government is establishing, will be able to facilitate in these developments, using the latest technology on the market. At the end of the day, the decision to shift to public transportation will rely not only on the ease of access to public transportation alone, but also the inconvenience of driving to your destination.
It is my earnest hope that as we, the government, work towards tilting the balance from private to public transportation, the local culture and perspectives will change so that having a car is no longer an asset but a liability, and everyone will come to think twice before investing in one as one’s preference changes from private to public transportation. As its often said, a developed city is one where the upper classes take public transportation. That is the kind of city Penang must aim to be in the long run and I strongly believe that we are all able to do it.