Sunday, May 18, 2008

Trams For Penang?

Another solution has been proposed to solve the bad joke called "public transportation" in Penang. This time, its trams.

Yep, some people (including my friends) and social activists in Penang are calling for a return of the tram service that once rolled through Georgetown in the 50s. The island once had its army of trams and trolleybuses before they were phased out with the diesel-powered bus in the 60s. The railtracks were paved over and the grid that supplied electricity to these machines were converted to plain-old powerlines. From then on, public transport was by bus, until someone in City Hall screwed up the system to make it the mess it is now.

Today, if you go to the Chulia-Penang Road junction, you'll see the old railtracks which were uncovered by road repairs earlier this year. Following the line from the Odeon, the rails go all the way down Penang Road, past Chowrasta and the police station, and towards Komtar... before diving into the tar like a subterranean submarine.

With the bad municipal transport system, many Penang folks got fed-up and bought motorbikes and cars instead. Which resulted in more congestion on this rock of 30km by 20km that looks like a flying squirrel...

Considering the number of people supporting the reintroduction of trams, it may be A Good Idea. After all, its far easier and cheaper to install than a monorail or subway, and it carries more people.

But then, lets also consider:
  • Are roads in Penang wide enough for a tram line? Anyone living in Penang knows how narrow the streets are, except in some parts of town. There may be no more space left for trams... even in mixed traffic.
  • You can't change routes easily with a tram. Unlike buses, you need rails and electrical cabling overhead for a new route. The solution would be to serve areas with high population densities where you can guarantee a steady stream of passengers (and fares)... like downtown Georgetown (Penang Road, KOMTAR), Ayer Itam, and Jelutong.
  • Motorcycles and bicycles don't mix with tramtracks. What happens when you try to cross parallel rail tracks on a bike, motorcycle, or any narrow-wheeled vehicle?


I had a bad experience once in the USA... fortunately my thick coat prevented any further injuries aside from scratched hands.
  • What happens if a tram breaks down? Now that will delay the other trams behind it and screw up the schedule for the day. Or sometimes a car or truck breaks down on the tracks. That is easier to move aside, but still would cost at least a 10 minute delay. Speaking of cars blocking the railtracks...
  • You know the way people in Penang drive, right? They double-park their vehicles wherever they damn please. So it will happen that some stupid Ah Beng parks his Type-R Wira on the tracks so he can buy today's lottery at Toto. Or some guy on a motorbike with his wife on the pillion and their child sandwiched in between... tries to cut in front of a tram, front wheel gets caught on the rail... all three and bike tumble over... right in front of a moving tram...
Bam! Instant front-page news for the evening Chinese newspapers... complete with appetite-suppressing photos of the accident.
  • What about the current bus system? It can be improved. With the way the buses and taxi's are managed (the bus & taxi companies actually rent out the buses instead of hiring their own drivers), is it any surprise that the island's public transport situation is all fucked-up? How about consolidating all the bus companies under a state-controlled entity so management, routes, and fares can be standardized without conflict? But whatever it is, you will still need buses to complement/work-with the tram system.

Lets hope Guan Eng and Co. does some serious research and planning into this first... because if they don't... any new tram system might actually make things worse for Penang island...


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another defamation sue in the making. This will be the first Malaysian taken to court for libel charges just because he made a Genuine Consumer Complaint on the Internet. Should we keep quite from being bullied by the rich and powerful? Is it right to use the law to muzzle a consumer in grievance? Read more here and original complaint at