By A. Jeyaraj
Parking is a problem throughout Ipoh including the suburbs. It has gone from bad, worse to acute in Old Town especially during weekends. Recently, a reader who came to Ipoh by electric train during a weekend wrote in NST “To my surprise, Old Town, which is just across the road from the famed colonial era train station, was a hive of activity. It was the middle of the month. There were local and foreign tourists all over Old Town.”
After being listed in Lonely Planet as the 6th best city to visit, more tourists are coming to Ipoh and going to old town to see the vintage cafes, street art and taste the delicious food. The narrow Panglima Lane or Concubine Lane is congested with tourists and most of them need a place to park their vehicles.
Old Town consists of a small area and you can walk from one end to the other in about 15 minutes. It consists of three main parallel roads with side roads crisscrossing more or less at 90 degrees. The main entrance is through Little India and the roads around Standard Chartered Bank form the financial centre of Ipoh.
The buildings are compact with virtually no open space except for the Ipoh Padang which is at one end. With the introduction of one way traffic, manoeuvring around Old Town is not easy; one has to be familiar with the place.
During weekdays parking is a problem mainly due to customers going to the banks and food lovers converging along Jalan Bandar Timah or Leech Street. This street should aptly be named Food Street. The situation is aggravated during weekends. In addition to locals enjoying their regular breakfast, tourists from outstation come to Old Town, causing an influx of people into the area. Occasionally tourist buses are parked along the narrow roads causing traffic jams. The roads cannot cater for this. It is essential that tourist buses drop their passengers and park elsewhere. Lately more hawkers are doing business along the road sides. Weekend shoppers are causing traffic jams in Little India.
The roads are narrow and the situation is made worse by irresponsible motorists parking their vehicles indiscriminately. Since Sunday is a public holiday, enforcement officers do not go round summoning vehicles parked illegally. During implementation of the one-way traffic system, there were plans to build parking lots at strategic places, but this was not implemented. A multi storey car park can be built at the open space at the end of Jalan Tun Sambanthan.
I suggest that sections of Old Town be made car free on weekends so that tourists can walk around safely. Since the railway station is the gateway to Ipoh, covered walkways should be built from the station to Old Town with proper signage to the tourist spots. If possible construct canopies over the roads to encourage people to walk under the shade like in Petaling Street in KL.
Another suggestion is to provide shuttle bus services at least during weekends, from the railway station and the old express bus terminus in Medan Kidd so that people can park their cars there and take the bus. Electric trishaws have been introduced and they can ferry passengers from the station to Old Town; ensure the prices are reasonable to encourage tourists to use them.
People can park their cars further away and walk, which Malaysians do not like; they prefer to park right in front of the shop.
When I was working in Miri, shopkeepers used to tell the locals not to go shopping during weekends. The weekends were reserved for Bruneians to shop when prices were then hiked up. Maybe Ipohites should avoid this area during weekends.
I think these are some of the ways to ease the parking problem in Old Town. Immediate action must be taken to solve the problem. If the situation worsens, tourists may stop coming.
With Visit Perak 2017 descending on us very rapidly, it’s time to put some of these suggestions into action.