Friday, July 18, 2008

Penang's public transportation: A radical solution

I like radical solutions. They push the envelope of conventional thinking. I want to propose a radical funding solution for the Penangites for Trams Campaign. I very much believe that this Campaign makes absolute sense in the context of Penang Island which is compact, densely populated and, a magnet for tourists. The general merits of the Campaign are very well set out in the URL link above. It is unnecessary for me to go into it.

Instead, I want to address only a few key issues that, in my humble view, will advance the cause of the Campaign. I hope the Campaign members will take this up and, I will be happy to embellish and develop the propositions, if called upon.

1. Set up a Penang Tram Foundation
The Campaign needs to go beyond the ranting and platitudes and step up the process. This can be done by incorporating a company limited by guarantee. I'm suggesting the name Penang Tram Foundation.

The basic charter of the Foundation is simply to promote and establish a public tram system for Penang.

2. Sidestepping the thicket of legalities
The Foundation, being a private entity (as opposed to the Penang State Government) has a just cause in the public interest to propose the establishment of a comprehensive tram system for Penang. The Foundation can meet the constitutional issues on infrastructure development being under the federal government by sending a formal proposal in the public interest.

3. Funding methodology: Public lottery
This is where I get radical. The Foundation should establish a public lottery to partially fund and finance the initial studies and surveys on the tram routes, the construction issues and tram technology to be deployed. The Penang Tram Lottery (a working name) will also be used to fund and finance the construction of the tram route, pay for any land acquisition required to create the route, the acquisition of the trams and, the subsequent tram operations.

4. Rationale for public lottery as a public finance device
The Campaign is clearly promoting the tram idea because it ameliorates the public transportation woes of Penang. It is a public-interest proposition since public transportation is a Public Good. And, if the federal government is reticent about solving the obvious public transportation woes of Penang, then the Foundation is a good vehicle to formalise the Campaign.

A public lottery is a form of public finance. It's economic merits are manifold if the goal is to create a public good. For a more technical economic analysis of the merits of lotteries as a means of financing public goods, please read John Morgan (of Princeton University) in an article entitled Financing Public Goods by Means of Lotteries.
As I said, I like radical solutions. I very much believe that the issue of public transportation in Penang is a very serious matter that is already affecting the economic competitiveness of the state. The poor public transportation infrastructure is also having a deleterious effect on Penang's tourism.

See also a related blog entry made earlier that provides a wider context to the public finance via public lottery proposition contained above at The Malaysian problem with privatisation of public goods.


JH Hoe said...

A Tram approach may be an interim solution to solve our transportation woes, but the lottery idea .... it may be sensitive to our muslim society. You know our social welfare ministry was owning the lottery business but had to part way with it.

Anonymous said...

The idea has merit....

Trams are the most cost effective way that the PR government can institute an efficient public transport system on its own without having to beggar bowl in hand to the BN government. LGE ultimately will have to take some calculated risks to show that he has brought some real changes to the Penang efficient public transport system is what will win the common man now in lieu of rising oil prices......

The second bridge and PORR are very very expensive solutions and may damage the island permanently.....for the PR government it maybe time to make that call.......

de minimis said...

The point that we should make to the federal govt is that they should be open to alternative solutions. Why doggedly stick to the monorail proposal? Why abandon it when the state govt is not under BN control?

If it is funding, this blog has proposed a solution.

If it is feasibility - let's commission a study on trams.

If it is morality of lotteries then either the federal govt provides grants or leave an NGO (like the Foundation proposed) to do the fundraising and operations of the trams - subject to regulations, of course.

All I'm saying is, if there is no better idea, why not consider this one?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agreed with LGE that it is Penangites' right and not privillege to development projects. Having said that it is also not good just to argue and fight with the thick (or should it be dense) headed guy and team over the funding. While working in that area, the creative thinking should be in place to resolve the traffic woes. So de minimis' idea may be a good one. Perhaps consider to set up a contribution campaign for business communities and Penangites living in and out of Penang to contribute towards the start of the fund. Supportive Malaysians from other state are also welcome to contribute. Of course everything must be do within the law.

Penangites come on, stand up and show that down and out is not your nature. You will survive!

JH Hoe said...

I had been in Melbourne to try their Tram. It was a public holiday and I enjoyed the long trip. It was really impressive.

It may not be feasible to get the Tram alone to solve the whole traffic woes, it shall be integrated with other public transportation like buses, taxis and monorail.

And it does not end here, the council then has to limit the traffic volume in the town, and provide ample parking space for the Tram passengers. The private drivers and road users must be trained to be discipline and not causing accidents with the Tram. The boarding fare must be fair and as a convenient alternative to Penang folks.

de minimis said...

I agree that trams are not the complete solution. The bus service and routes and taxi services must also be looked into.

Yes, having studied in Melbourne I agree that the tram system there wonderfully augments the train and bus service for the city.

Anonymous said...


I think this is the best idea so far.

A tram would probably make more sense than an ugly monorail?

I think the lottery idea is radical but effective. ;)

Why dun you suggest it to DAP?

Unknown said...

Trams can definitely part of a solution to Penang's notorious traffic woe. However the lotery part can be more tricky-it would be much harder for the Federal govt to grant a license for a lottery than to grant a license for trams! But a public bond may work just as well -if it is more feasible than getting a license for running a lottery. For more discussion on transport solutions for Penang go to

de minimis said...

Jed, I'm not sure if the DAP will immediately champion this idea. I am hoping that the proposal will find more mass-support so that it will THEN be easier for DAP to champion the idea. Do you think I should put up a "vote-yes-or-no" box?

de minimis said...

huang, you hit the nail on the head! The PROBLEM is that the federal constitution prevents the Penang (and all Semenanjung states) from borrowing from anybody EXCEPT the federal govt. That's why I'm suggesting public lotteries as the radical funding idea...unless Pak Lah and Nor Yakcop (both from Penang!)re-allocates the funding.

Unknown said...

Halo Choo,
The same with lottery -you need a license from the Fed. Otherwise there will be a lot more lottery than the like of ToTo. Your idea of a mass support is neccesary as DAP will not be support an idea unless it is a electoral winner. If you are interested you can join a public transport advocacy group at Penang Watch to start rallying the forces. Welcome to call me at 013-5900339.

Anonymous said...

I for one am reprehensive about all this talk of how the slow moving tram is going to solve all the traffic jam in Georgetown.

My reasoning:

I hope once and for all someone would reassure me of my doubt on the tram that is not feasible in Georgetown for another 20 years. Anil Netto, Lucia Lai and Susan Loone learnt a lot from our PM, a lot of good plan but know nuts about implementation

de minimis said...

hi inspiron

I actually read your comment thru' the URL link that you provided. You may be right about the congestion, mat rempits and narrow streets. I'm not sure about the nuances in the tram discussion to-date. But I hope that you will keep an open mind (like I am) and stay with the basic proposition that Penang needs a better transportation system - be it trams, buses, special, lanes and so on. The govt, state or federal, obviously have limitations. I am attracted to the Penang Tram matter bec it represents a civic initiative which will, hopefully, not be overly politicised.

The desired outcome, regardless of actual vehicles decided upon, must be a more efficient transportation system.