KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 — Once described as a cowboy town, Johor Baru (JB) is headed for an exciting future.
With 2020 approaching, JB is slated to be developed into a city of international stature where people can enjoy amenities featured in great cities all over the world.
Mayor Rahim Nin, who took office five months ago, outlined his plans during the launch of the Johor Baru Strategic Plan 2016-2020 recently.
He spoke about overhauling the outdated public transport system and a city where people do not drive, but walk or take a bus to major shopping centres. He said there would soon be air-conditioned walkways in the city centre providing pedestrians shelter from the sun and rain.
He said introducing a park-and-ride facility within the central business district would be his priority. The new system would see less vehicles entering the area and there would be buses providing free shuttle services.
Among those at the launch were businessmen, corporate figures and politicians, including Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Khaled Nordin.
Many who were present remember what the city was like in the 60s and 70s. The JB of the past was a town overshadowed by the more prosperous and forward-looking Singapore.
Some of them may even recall that the existence and well-being of the old JB hinged on what Singapore, a free port with a cheaper range of imported goods, had to offer.
While JB is enjoying its city status, which was granted in 1994, Rahim said he hopes to see the Johor Baru City Council accorded with a City Hall status by next year.
“We have what it takes to be known as Johor Baru City Hall. The council has an income of more than RM300 million annually, derived from a population of one million people.
“But the state executive councillor would have to agree to it and the Cabinet must give its consent first,” he said.
Rahim said turning JB into a world-class city would have its own share of problems and obstacles.
The lack of government land in and around the city is one of the main stumbling blocks causing a dilemma to the council.
“We have run out of empty land for public projects, including a park in the heart of the city, which is a characteristic of major cities around the world.
“We don’t even have space to build a hawker centre or land to accommodate food trucks, which is a fad these days,” he said.
While the public complain that lorries, tables and chairs used by those who operate food trucks are taking up valuable car park spaces, the lack of space means the council is unable to accommodate the demands of all stakeholders.
But Rahim said the biggest challenge is to develop an efficient transportation system serving the city and beyond.
He said while he wants to build a multi-storey car park in the fringe of the city and introduce air-conditioned walkways, he also needs the private sector to help develop these projects with the authorities.
“Any world-class city in existence or in the making have an efficient public transportation system in place. But not in JB. Not now, anyway. The reliance on taxis only add to congestion in the streets. An efficient public bus system or even a Light Rail Transit system would be ideal for the city.
“For a start, we are looking at getting all local bus companies together to see if they can come up with a plan to share routes and invest in more buses, with higher frequency. I had great hopes when the Iskandar Regional Development Transportation Authority came up with a RM3.8 billion master plan with buses as the main form of public transportation system for JB.
“Even a scaled-down version would do and we will write to the federal government asking for the money to implement our plans. JB needs a more efficient public transport system and as the Iskandar Region develops further and with the population of the city expected to hit 1.5 million by 2023, there will be further strain on the infrastructure,” said Rahim.
But until the money starts rolling into the Johor Baru City Council coffers, Rahim does not want to raise his hopes.
“The rule of thumb is we allocate 25 per cent of our RM300 million annual income for development. That is about RM70 million but it’s not a lot of money to work with, especially in a city like JB,” he said.
Rahim is hopeful with the right assistance from the government and private sector JB can become a world-class city by 2020.
– See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/world-class-johor-barus-almost-there#sthash.TfssYgnZ.dpufSource: World class? Johor Baru’s almost there | Malaysia | Malay Mail Online