When the electric mains at my house tripped this morning just before 7 AM, I should have just jumped out of bed, forget about brushing my teeth or having coffee, and I should have jumped straight into my work clothes, jump into my old faithful and drive straight for the ferry.
A little dramatic perhaps. Well, the electric mains trips when there is thunder and lighting and there was lots of it this morning. And when it rains, all hell breaks loose on the pride of Penang ... the Penang Bridge of course. I was out of the house before 7.40 am. I thought I would outsmart the rest by taking the BORR (ok, not BORE) which is the Butterworth Outer Ring Road to get to the Bridge knowing well that Monday morning has become nightmares for traffic heading to the Island, what more when there's heavy down pour. When I was halfway on the BORR, my wife called to report heavy congestion on the bridge. So I headed for the ferry. Hhmm, mobile technology, radio and the wife makes perfect Intelligent Traffic System, don't you think?. When I reached the ferry terminal, the queue was already building up, but I thought, "not too bad". Bad judgment. So, I queued up anyway 'cause I had to conduct an e-learning training at 9 AM. Time now, about 5 or 10 minutes before 8 AM. Plenty of time, no problem, I thought.
As I queued, most people seemed to be very disciplined. No cops in sight. A few queue jumpers but, keep you cool. Hey, the 2 lanes on the right seemed to be moving faster. Should I switch lanes? Nah, let's play by the rules. When I finally reached the ferry toll plaza, I realised that the 2 lanes on the left was merging into a single lane (yah, yah, yah, I have used the ferry a thousand times, so I really should know better). No wonder we were slower than the other 2 lanes on the right. I started cursing the PPC (Penang Port Commission) for not managing the traffic flow. You know, they are very good after the toll plaza but don't seem to care what happens before that. Same thing on the Island side. There's a lot of queue jumping at peak hours (by drivers who pretend that they did not know there's a queue stretching all the way to the clock tower).
So, I was sitting in my car a little upset, not so much by the waiting. I had no other choice. I looked around and noted all the cars with their engines on and the air-con running. And I thought of what an impact the system is doing to our environment. Why can't they have a light high up there - turn it to red to tell everybody the traffic is not moving (because the queue on the other side of the toll plaza is full) so everybody can just switch off their engine? No, it wouldn't work if the weather is hot. And no, it wouldn't work even if you put a canopy over the cars. You may have noticed the sign at the upper level which says "Matikan Engine Semasa Menunggu" (something like that) pleading with drivers to turn off their engines while waiting to board the ferry on the upper deck to spare the walking passengers the foul smell of the exhaust. Anybody bothers? Some do. I do. Most don't.
What time did I get on the ferry? More than one and half hours later at 9.30 am. Meanwhile, I heard over the radio that there was a 4-vehicle pile-up on the exit going towards the Island which was also causing a huge jam for the traffic in the opposite direction heading to the Mainland. Ever notice those barriers they have put up to prevent all the busy-bodies from slowing down to peek at accidents on the other side? They are ugly of course and I doubt it matters.
So, it took me about 2 hours and 20 minutes to get from Teluk Air Tawar to the USM Campus. A normal trip in the good ole days would be about 30 minutes. Most Monday mornings are really terrible for crossing the Bridge (I have no idea why) but if I start early enough like maybe before 7.30 am I can still do the crossing in about 40 minutes.
So, who's to blame for the mess we are in? The planners? Of course! But who are these planners? In my book, it is not just town planners but include everyone who played a part in the way our environment has become. The politicians especially because they are movers and shakers who get things done (their way, most of the time!), the bridge engineers, the architects, the surveyors, the people who build the cars and lobby for more roads and bridges. And YOU and I. We are all to blame. Because we decide to drive and live further away from the madness of the cities. Because we don't have choice?