On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Second bridge and monorail for Penang?

PENANGITES have plenty of reasons to look forward to the speech by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at the Dewan Rakyat today. They expect the Prime Minister to give them a present in the Ninth Malaysia Plan he is tabling in Parliament.

The speculation is that Penang will get the second bridge. And there is likely to be a bonus. Penangites, who have long complained about the poor public transport system, will get a monorail link.

The second bridge, the monorail and the outer ring road will be the biggest improvement in the state's public transport system. Hopefully, with this massive integrated link, Penangites will see the last of their transportation nightmare.

In short, it is time to end the chaotic traffic and deplorable public transport system in Penang. With Pak Lah as the Prime Minister, he can do plenty for his home state. Now is the time.

From traffic congestion to narrow streets to an almost non-existent bus system, Penangites have long had to put up with this daily grind.

I remember as a schoolboy a bus conductor used his elbow to stop me from getting on board a municipal council bus to my home in Kampung Melayu in Air Itam.

More than three decades later, the stressful situation hasn't changed. There are now air-conditioned buses; but for passengers, it is still a daily test of patience as they wait for the bus by the roadside.

More than 1.4 million cars and motorcycles choke the state's highways and narrow streets every day.

It is frightening because Penang only has a population of 1.45 million people.

The ratio of private vehicle ownership to the population in Penang is almost one to one while Singapore, with a population of over 4.6 million, records a ratio of one vehicle to two persons.

The average Penangite has a car and a motorcycle, maybe two, at home, for short-distance travel. Hardly anyone takes the taxi, because Penang cabbies have long refused to use the meter. The taxi sapu is the preferred choice.

Abdullah is unlikely to give any specific date for the construction of the monorail but the word is that preliminary work has been conducted.

There is even talk that for a start, the routes will be between George Town and Batu Ferringhi, Batu Uban and Paya Terubong.

The second bridge and monorail projects are justified, even overdue.

At present, an average of 110,000 vehicles use the existing bridge on weekdays, and as high as 120,000 on weekends.

The Penang Bridge's optimal capacity is 80,000 vehicles.

The second bridge, estimated to cost RM2.6bil, is crucial if the Government plans to make Penang a regional transport hub, which will benefit Kedah and Perlis. At present, at least 54% of Penangites already live on the mainland.

But the people in other states won't be left out. The focus of the 9MP will be the development of an integrated and efficient public transport system.

There is a likelihood that a public transport commission will be set up to oversee the improvement of public transport in the Klang Valley, the heart of the nation.

Transit hubs are expected to be set up in Kuala Lumpur for better travelling.

For the people in Negri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor, the 9MP focus is expected to be on upgrading the southern corridor. The expansion of development beyond the Klang Valley is inevitable.

The traffic congestion problem in Johor is as bad, if not worse than that in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, during the weekends, when Johoreans have to fight for space with Singaporean visitors. A dispersal link to ease the problem may be included in the 9MP.

But it won't be just roads and bridges in the 9MP. The rail infrastructure is almost certain to be upgraded as it has been a reliable form of transport in many states; and special attention is expected to be given to new industrial areas.