Many cars, few bays

Whether you are running an errand or out for a meal in the city, finding an empty parking lot during peak hours is almost like striking gold. I can testify to that.

On one occasion, I had to circle inner George Town for more than an hour before finding a parking space, albeit some 700m away from my destination. Later, I was given an earful by my boss for arriving late for my assignment.

According to 2009 data from the Road Transport Department, Penang had more vehicles than people (1.75 million vehicles for a population of 1.58 million). The average vehicle registration growth for Penang then was 9.5% a year.

In comparison, the city-state of Singapore which is slightly larger than Penang Island has a per-capita car ownership rate of 12 cars per 100 people (or 1 car for 8 persons).

While Singapore has a good integrated transport system – comprising the Mass Rapid Transit network, the SMRT bus service and more than 25,000 taxis – Penang’s traffic woes can be attributed to inadequate public transport services, indiscipline among drivers and lack of enforcement.

Municipal council statistics reveal that Penang has 11,000 parking lots in total, with George Town having only 5,721 lots.

Although the coupon parking system has been in place since February this year, the traffic situation on the island has not shown any improvement. It remains a big problem because there are just not enough parking lots to cater to the rising volume of vehicles in the state.

The problem has been made worse by motorists double-parking on either side of the road, especially in front of coffee shops or at the commercial areas.

Looking for parking space in areas like Campbell Street, Beach Street, Bishop Street, Chulia Street, Church Street and King Street can be a nightmare.

Sometimes, I have no choice but to resort to private parking. This can be quite costly because the average charge for parking three hours is RM10 but it saves me time and I don’t run the risk of being summoned for illegal parking.

The downside of parking at a private compound is that most of them close by 7pm. After that, I will have to take a cab home and pick up my car the next day for an additional RM50.

Compounding the problem of limited parking bays are traders and shopowners who selfishly place objects to “reserve” parking lots in front of their shops. Recently, the council came down hard on these culprits in Lebuh McNair, Lebuh Presgrave, Jalan C.Y. Choy and Lebuh Tye Sin.

In a nutshell, if there are ample parking lots on the island, there is no reason for responsible Penangites to flout the traffic rules. What we need is a better public transport system and stricter enforcement. - By The Star

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