Proposed Penang Island LRT: Blessing – or curse?

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An LRT station in KL

Who will bear the operations and maintenance costs if ridership projections are not met, wonders Eric Cheah.

The plan for the proposed elevated light rail (LRT) in Penang Island has been put up for public display and feedback in Komtar and nine other public places.

Some Penangites think that it is high time Penang enjoys such “modern” public transport, citing the mass rapid transit system in Singapore and Hong Kong or the monorail and modern trains in Japan.

But how “modern” will the Penang Island elevated light rail be? If launched in June 2020, it would be completed seven years later ie 2027.

Under phase one, the route begins in Komtar in George Town and heads south, stopping well outside the Penang Airport.

Under phase two, it will then go through eight stations on all three proposed artificial islands to be reclaimed off the southern coast of Penang Island. This makes us wonder whether the elevated light rail is ultimately meant for Penangites – or for the 446,000 expected to live on the three islands (but where are these people coming from?)!

We are also told that it will take 38 minutes from Komtar to the airport. When I mentioned this to a clerk, she remarked sagely, “In eight years’ time, I would expect the journey to take 10 minutes.” At the rate technology is developing today, this would not be an unrealistic expectation.

The LRT will have to stop at 19 stations from Komtar to the airport, so that explains the 38-minute journey. There are too many stations because it is just a single line.

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The project proponents originally forecasted that, in the very first year of the LRT, the annual ridership would be 42 million (or 115,000 per day) in an island with a population of less than 800,000!

Wasn’t this unrealistic for only a single line? Amazingly, the forecast ridership was comparable to the Klang Valley and the London tube, which have multiple lines covering vast areas!

This bloated estimate would have led many Penangites into thinking that the LRT would be self-sufficient.

But Roger Teoh, a postgraduate student at the Centre for Transport Studies in Imperial College London, figured Penang could incur up to RM1bn in losses after 10 years of operation. After all, this LRT line, estimated to cost more than RM10bn, will incur annual maintenance costs of about RM170m.

(Incidentally, the state government’s website now shows a reduced ridership of 81,000 per day – and this only upon completion of the line in 2038.)

Civil society groups in Penang are now advocating the autonomous rapid rail transit (ART), a trackless tram system currently undergoing final trials in China. A number of Australian cities have already expressed interest in this new – and much cheaper – technology.

For the Komtar to airport route, ART will probably cost only about RM600m and could be completed within two years. Sarawak is now adopting ART and will be the state leading in this direction.

The Penang state government, however, is insisting on the LRT.

But already, Penangites are being subjected to council assessment hikes of up to 100% for the coming year.

READ MORE:  Forum: Penang LRT - Solution or Financial Distress?

If the Penang state government is allowed to embark on this over-ambitious RM10bn mega-project, we Penangites could be burdened with even more taxes in years to come if the elevated light rail ridership projections are not met.

If the current assessment rate hikes do not awaken Penangites to the serious risks of embarking on the RM50bn “PTMP”, then one wonders what will.

May God have mercy on us.

Eric Cheah is a former national chess player and social activist who has fought for the rights of Vietnamese workers who were exploited, trafficked or unfairly prosecuted.

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XulihMichael Andre AugustinSiew Eng ChuahGimano SanokiKS Cheah Recent comment authors
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Xulih
Xulih

If the current govt is stubborn then we should vote them out. Why should we bear the financial burden? Our income cannot be compared to KL.

Siew Eng Chuah

There are other cheaper and equally viable options like trams, which is also better for the environment.

Gimano Sanoki

Blessing if all private cars are not allowed in the Island only public transportation with good and reliable system.

KS Cheah
KS Cheah

Shocking recklessness and irresponsibility in ridership forecast by the Penang government.

Michael Andre Augustin

Nowadays take a look at the traffic jams in Penang, but observe how many are in the cars, usually just one/the driver. Better to have a LRT as it’ll help with traffic congestion.

KL Chong

Michael Andre Augustin , there’s other options like Tram and ART to consider. LRT is a ‘dinosaur’ of mass transportation.

Siew Eng Chuah

Michael Andre Augustin the LRT, if above ground, also affects the beautiful landscape of Penang. Besides being costlier to build and maintain than trams.

Michael Andre Augustin

Siew Eng Chuah Penang island isn’t beautiful being all choked up with gridlock on its roads, tbh.

Michael Andre Augustin

KL Chong Penang island has no space for trams tbh

Roy Ernest Lim

Everytime something is proposed there will always be opposition, but once it’s done and as times go by, it’s just like rice or bread being our staple food

Roy Sharma

Any LRT plan must connect to the mainland. That is where the bulk of the road traffic comes from I would have thought. And have sufficient station in Seberang Prai or else no point having the LRT

Keith Yeoh

Roy Sharma Connecting to the mainland is in the pipeline as stated in the original plan.

Ong Lay Imm

How many families in the Island will ditch their existing 1 or 2 cars at home to travel in LRT to work or school on a daily basis? Perhaps during trip to airport or during major festival events in town etc.?

The LRT did not connected to Mainland, that’s the bulks of vehicles that travel to the Island for work everyday.

There will also be massive suffering during the contruction period of 7 years or more not mentioning the environment impacts to the areas and to those who stay, work and study in this stretch of roads. I don’t think it will reach the projected 80k-100k daily ridership at all.

Keith Yeoh

Ong Lay Imm 1st quiry about how many people would take LRT then LRT didn’t connect to mainland. So which is which? Merely oppose for nothing ? I will leave my car at home and take LRT.

Ong Lay Imm

Keith Yeoh 1st is a question, 2nd is a fact based on the PTMP. The state government plan to build PIL1 and also the LRT. If PIL1 will take you 15 min to travel by car (without paying) from Komtar to Pg Airport and LRT will take you through 19 station with 38 minutes (with fare), will you still take LRT?

Keith Yeoh

Ong Lay Imm Of course, I will

Ong Lay Imm

Keith Yeoh OK, that’s your choice but not mine.

Keith Yeoh

Ong Lay Imm That is majority Penangite’s choice, not me alone.

Ong Lay Imm

Keith Yeoh You got the majority survey done recently?

Keith Yeoh

Ong Lay Imm I have pool of friends endorse this. What say you ?!

Ong Lay Imm

Keith Yeoh How many friends you got? That’s not constitute majority.

Keith Yeoh

Ong Lay Imm Then what else. The state government and communities working in Bayan Lepas Industrial Park. Enough?!

Ong Lay Imm

You win!

Soon Teik Ong

Ong Lay Imm There is George Town – Butterworth Line, aka Cross Straits LRT. Further, there are Bukit Mertajam Line and Simpang Empat Line for mainland too. I will definitely take the LRT because now a days the traffic is madness on the island, Karpal Singh Drive Station, Komtar Station, SPICE, Bayan Baru, Airport. Lots of people travel to those areas in a daily basis like me, we have no choice to drive our own car and dealing with the terrible traffic. Once we have the LRT, we don’t have to seek for parking lot like mad people, don’t have to park illegally, reducing more illegal street parking, clear more public space for the pedestrians instead of private vehicles. And it is not like KL lrt, we have 1 station in every 1km along the route, just like Singapore, HK, Taiwan etc, which is the most suitable and effective distance to cover all the population along the route within the 500m-900m radius. 30mins from KOMTAR to Airport, it is consider fast. And not all people take long distance travel from Komtar to Airport everyday, the most… Read more »

Chris Chen

Anything ‘light’ is a waste of time & money

Chin Tu Lan

38 minutes might as well take Grab.

Patricio Ephraim Carnivara

Blessing…

Richard Ng Ting Woong

If it can alleviate the transport problem , why not.?

Keith Yeoh

How long you are going to oppose this project ? It help Penangites to get rid of massive jam.

Chris Chen

Not with a *light* rail transit, bro

Keith Yeoh

Why not?! Enough is enough !

KL Chong

Keith Yeoh , Penang don’t have the ridership volume. How’s the annual loss be covered? Or you don’t care at all.

Keith Yeoh

KL Chong This is public transport . As long can it break even. Go and study the LRT and Monorail in KL