How SRS’ proposal deviates from the original Penang transport masterplan

The RM46bn SRS rojak

This is the second article in a series to explain why the Penang government should review the Penang transport masterplan. Written by Ahmad Hilmy and Lim Mah Hui.

Not many people realise how far distorted the current version of the Penang transport masterplan, undertaken by a Gamuda-led corporate consortium, is from the original masterplan adopted by the Penang government in March 2013.

The original, prepared by renowned UK-based engineering consultant Halcrow, aims for a holistic approach to solving Penang’s mobility and transport problems, adopting a paradigm shift by moving people, not cars. It aims to make roads safe and user-friendly for all, especially pedestrians, cyclists and the physically disadvantaged.

Crucially, it envisages the building of a tunnel and more highways only as longer term priorities if required.

However, after SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd — a joint-venture between Gamuda Bhd (60%) and local real estate development firms Loh Phoy Yen Holdings Sdn Bhd (20%) and Ideal Property Development Sdn Bhd (20%) — took over, the plan was revamped to deviate substantially from the Halcrow transport masterplan.

Instead of implementing the original strategies, the state turned its focus on mega projects that led to the cost of the SRS proposal ballooning to a mind-boggling RM46bn.

Perplexingly enough, the SRS plan ignored all the institutional and short- and medium-term measures of the Halcrow masterplan, and only focused on adding more mega infrastructure and highways. For the public transport system, SRS ditched Halcrow’s recommended bus rapid transit and trams for a monorail and an LRT.

This was despite the monorail being outdated technology and hardly used anywhere in the world as a means of public transport. Sydney and Moscow have torn down their monorail systems.

Even former Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had stated on 15 March 2013 that “BN’s monorail is inappropriate for a world heritage city like Penang, as its elevated structure will destroy Penang’s charms.” The same can be said for the proposed LRT.

Another factor to note is that the selection of SRS as the project delivery partner to implement the transport masterplan was not based on an open tender system, but through a request for proposals.

In an open tender, a client that calls for a tender defines the project with detailed specifications. Parties that submit tenders must then conform to the specifications so that the cheapest tender can be selected.

However, in a request for proposals, the tenderers submit different proposals to the client. No two proposals submitted under a request for proposals are similar, and therefore they cannot be compared. The procurement and negotiation processes thus become more prone to rigging or abuse.

Having opted for the request for proposals, the state government called for bidders in August 2014 and received a total of six bids by the closing date in February 2015. This eventually led to the state awarding the project to SRS Consortium in August 2015.

As a project delivery partner, the consortium’s role is to manage the implementation of the masterplan and guarantee its timely and acceptable completion for a fee (in this case 6% of the total project cost).

Curiously, the state also allocated RM305m just to do the feasibility and detailed design studies for the undersea tunnel and three highways on Penang island. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is investigating these matters.

The Halcrow plan’s holistic agenda

The original Halcrow transport masterplan

A principal objective of the original transport masterplan is to increase public modal share of transport from 5% to 40% in 20 years (2011 to 2030). To achieve this, a series of short-, medium- and long-term steps were proposed, through four strategies:

  1. make better use of the state’s existing road and transport networks;
  2. strengthen institutional capabilities;
  3. have proposals to provide additional highway and public transport infrastructure only for the longer term; and
  4. institute traffic management policies aimed at reducing further growth of private vehicle activity.

Steps 1 and 2 call for:

  • improving regulation and enforcement against illegal waiting, parking, loading and hawker activities;
  • better management of on-street parking control regime;
  • reorganising existing bus networks into a series of core and secondary bus routes, plus
    feeder bus routes to serve residential and industrial communities;
  • changing the way development applications are approved by moving away from Traffic Impact Assessments, which have failed, to a system based on transport-related development contributions and better audit of transport accessibility.

In terms of public transport, the original transport masterplan talks of upgrading existing bus services to bus rapid transit services or tram services. Nowhere did the plan recommend monorails and light rail transit. To help public transport take off, it emphasised the need to significantly improve pedestrian accessibility in terms of shaded walkways integrated with bus stops and buildings.

Clearing of five-foot walkways is a priority so that pedestrians can walk comfortably and safely. Not much expense is necessary to achieve this.

Interestingly, the Halcrow plan also recommends improving the ferry services and introducing other water transport services to link George Town to the northern and southern coasts of the state.

The consultants cautioned that this might be difficult if the state does not have the support of the federal authorities. But now that Pakatan Harapan has control over the state and federal agencies, this should no longer be a stumbling block.

It is alarming that the SRS version of the masterplan significantly detracts from the above. What happened to funding for institutional reforms, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, water transport and feeder buses that constitute the necessary elements for a holistic and balanced transportation system?

Something has gone terribly wrong.

Dr Ahmad Hilmy is an associate professor at USM and Dr Lim Mah Hui is a former professor, international banker and Penang Island City Councillor.

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Yog Sothoth

“Clearing of five-foot walkways is a priority so that pedestrians can walk comfortably and safely. Not much expense is necessary to achieve this.” There are certain areas in George Town where shophouse and townhouse tenants have erected elaborate fixtures barricading the five-foot walkways running across their properties from being accessed by the public. Removing these will cost a great deal of money, effort and confrontation between authorities and tenants, and I can’t imagine the former looking forward to the task. Not surprisingly, many five-foot walkways in George Town are still obstructed, and pedestrian walkways running parallel with them are over-ridden… Read more »


Lim Mah Hui has no interest in 5 Foot Way.

BB resident

Check up Singapore’s 5 foot way:

BB resident

Kantoi Habis! Lim Guan Eng Dedah Najib Luluskan Bayaran RM5 Juta Kepada Arul Kanda


They cancelled BRT and opted for LRT.
Rest in Peace BRT for Malaysia.
Buses are for poor countries and w…


Of course it depends on who is funding. If greens, they want more bicycle lanes. Future transport is lrt. How many are building trams. Bus transit needs special lane for buses. Try that in batu ferringhi?

Hafidz Mohsin

@transitmy no more rail transit pls.only bus

Muttaqin Othman

“For the public transport system, SRS ditched Halcrow’s recommended bus rapid transit and trams for a monorail and an LRT.”

This is serious! This should be given more consideration!


If use bus transit, then pg gomen must acquire land for the busway. Land acquisition cheap cheap? Who is the lucky owner land is taken away? Another round of strike?


Where to put brt and tram? They don’t need space to run? They run in mid air? Who held concession to brt which uses bus? Has halcow identify who is going to be the bus operator? How much operator is going to lose the money? Peak hours OK make money. What about off peak from 9.30 to 4.30pm and 7 to 12am? School children and ah pek are charged at concession rates during these times. Only hong land and singland can laugh during to higher density and and higher cost in car ownership

Michelle Quah

I am extremely disappointed with how all this is unfolding in Penang. New Harapan is hopeless. Flexing their muscles after winning a third term in Pg.

Awang Selamat Ori

Not all is lost if Penangnites, NGO’s and civil society come out in huge numbers to protest. This scandal is bigger than the SRC. Even Tun is worried of his new Finance Minister, thereby taking all the big GLC’s like Khazanah, Petronas, Felda away from the Finance Ministry. Do you know that your Finance Minister is now just a book keeper? To save Penang, Penangnites must come out to protest in large numbers in every place possible. Excessive damages had been done to Tanjong Bungah, Sg. Ara, Relau and most of all Bayan Baru. There must be some NGO’s to… Read more »

Mah HS

Protest in large number?
Are you taking the lead?


Are you protesting at komtar on Friday afternoon, encik Awang?

Mission impossible Cruise

Awang talk is cheap, show your true colour to protest at Kontar and disrupt the trader business there at concourse floor mostly bumi traders Cari makan there.


The Education Ministry has instructed schools, universities, colleges and other institutions under its purview to cease its subscription of Utusan Malaysia, an Umno-owned newspaper.

Awang Selamat could be out of job soon?


If the finance minister is a book keeper, then who is the mike? …