Alert: From what I understand, the environmental impact assessment, marine traffic risk assessment, social impact assessment, traffic impact assessment and fisheries impact assessment for the southern Penang Island reclamation plan has still not been approved.
The following is another brilliant article by Roger Teoh, a PhD postgraduate studying at the Centre for Transport Studies, Imperial College London. Worth reading carefully to find out why so many people are opposing the SRS proposal, which was put forward by a contractor and two developers.
This latest article on the Penang transport masterplan and the SRS proposal is in response to the Penang state representative and former MBSP Councillor Joshua Woo’s letter to the editor “Sustainable public mobility is multidimensional”.
In this article, the two statements highlighted in italics are extracts from a representative of the Penang state government and SRS Consortium. These statements will be critically analysed using both quantitative and qualitative evidence, and I will leave it to the judgement of Penangites to come up with their own informed opinion on the topic.
Penangites deserve the right to be accurately informed with the true blueprint and consequences of the SRS proposal.
“Not a single country in the world has stopped using roads or stopped constructing new ones as part of its strategy to increase public mobility. Zurich, Singapore and Stockholm are the top sustainable cities in the world. They have traffic jams too, like Penang. To solve the traffic problems, these three cities develop better public transport and build new roads simultaneously. In the case of Penang, the multidimensional and multimodal approach has been adopted.”
The table below shows a comparison of some key transport statistics for the three cities of Zurich, Singapore and Stockholm versus Penang island. Data for Zurich, Singapore and Stockholm was obtained from the UITP Mobilities in Cities Database (2012), while data for Penang was obtained from various sources (Halcrow Report, DEIA and my own calculations).
On every metric, the transport statistics from Zurich, Singapore and Stockholm clearly disprove SRS Consortium’s argument that these cities are “placing an equal emphasis on public transport and the road network”. Unlike Penang which records one of the highest car modal share in the world (96.8%), the car modal shares for Zurich, Singapore and Stockholm are all below 50%.
So how do these cities manage to achieve such a low car modal share while Penang has remained stuck on car dependency for so many decades?
According to these transport metrics, it is apparent that these cities placed more emphasis on public transport instead of focusing heavily on cars. For example, Zurich has almost 8.5 times more public transport routes with a dedicated right-of-way (440.9 metres per 1000 persons) relative to its highway supply (52.0 metres per 1000 persons).
It is worth noting that Stockholm has the highest highway supply in this list (139 metres per 1,000 persons) because its urban layout and the population is scattered over a large area of multiple fjords. Despite Stockholm having the highest highway supply in the list, it still has 42.4% more dedicated public transport routes relative to highways.
Similarly, Singapore’s dedicated public transport route (33.4 metres per 1000 persons) is also 11% higher when compared with its highway supply (30 metres per 1000 persons).
Conversely, Penang island’s public transport infrastructure is virtually non-existent at the present day where it does not have any form of public transport with a dedicated-right of way (0 metres per 1,000 persons).
Due to the lack of adequate public transport, Penangites are forced to depend heavily on the car, as reflected in the “vehicle to population ratio”, where Penang has more vehicles than the state’s population.
Despite Penang trailing far behind in public transport infrastructure, the RM46bn SRS transport proposal continues to place heavy emphasis on vehicular traffic. For example, phase one of its proposal aims to construct only one LRT line from George Town to Bayan Lepas costing RM8bn, but significantly more roads and highways (PIL 1, PIL 2/2A, North Coast Paired Road, and the Penang undersea tunnel) projected to cost at least RM15bn.
Yes, the SRS Consortium correctly pointed out that cities around the world have not stopped widening or constructing some new roads. But these road improvement projects are often done at much smaller scales and are not meant to provide substantial new vehicle capacity.
Instead, the construction of some new roads aims to fulfil other objectives of the road network, such as allowing road space to be reallocated towards more sustainable transport modes and to support street-related activities and provide a high-quality public realm.
This is unlike the six-lane PIL 1 mega project that focuses solely on providing a substantial increase in road capacity.
It is worth noting that the SRS transport proposal (formulated by property developers) significantly deviates from the original Penang transport masterplan (formulated by Halcrow, a world-renowned independent transport consultant).
The Halcrow report placed more focus on improving public transport (seven proposed tram routes and three BRT routes) while only proposing to construct some new roads by 2030 at a much lower cost.
Essentially, the main difference lies in the magnitude and scale of road building.
As a result of the heavy emphasis on vehicular traffic in the SRS proposal, the transport statistics also show that the highway supply in Penang will still increase at a faster rate (+35.1 metres per 1,000 persons) than dedicated public transport routes (+25.88 metres per 1,000 persons) after the SRS proposal is implemented.
Therefore, this quantitative and qualitative evidence clearly show that the SRS proposal is not “sustainable and multidimensional” as claimed by its proponents.
Fundamentally, Penang urgently needs to catch up with its significant public transport deficit to reduce car dependence before it should even consider building any more roads.
“At the time of writing, Singapore is currently building its eleventh expressway, the 21.5km North-South Corridor with an estimated cost of RM23bn (S$8bn).”
The SRS Consortium has frequently used Singapore’s continued road building to justify the case for even more highways to be constructed in Penang. But such arguments are highly misleading as highlighted in my previous article that raised a number of critical questions on the SRS proposal that remained unanswered by the Penang government since 2016.
Most importantly, SRS Consortium simply failed to acknowledge that Singapore is constructing significantly more MRT lines (Thomson-East Coast MRT Line, Jurong Region Line, and the Cross-Island Line) than roads. This is in addition to the fact that Singapore already has five existing MRT lines with a car modal share of only 33.2%, compared to Penang with no form of public transport with a dedicated right-of-way and a car modal share of 96.8%.
To make matters worse, the representative of the Penang government only stated the absolute cost spent by Singapore to improve the road network, without providing a relative comparison with the money spent on improving mass transit. Although it is true that Singapore’s eleventh expressway (North-South Corridor) costs as much as S$8bn, such amounts pale by comparison to the money spent on constructing the Thomson-East Coast MRT Line (S$24bn), and the Cross-Island MRT Line (S$41bn).
It is also worth highlighting that Singapore’s new 21.5km North-South “Expressway” that was heavily cited by representatives of the Penang government had since been redesigned as a North-South “Corridor”. There is a clear distinction between an “expressway” and a “corridor” that was not adequately addressed by proponents of the PIL1. Unlike the PIL1 expressway that focuses primarily on moving vehicular traffic, the North-South Corridor will be Singapore’s first integrated transport corridor featuring continuous bus lanes, walking and cycling trunk routes.
The differences between Penang’s upcoming PIL1 expressway and Singapore’s North-South Corridor are shown in the artist impressions below.
While the Penang government frequently chides NGO concerns as “spreading fake news”, such an excuse can no longer be used for the artist impression for the PIL1 expressway as it was obtained directly from Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow’s official Facebook page.
According to a former Penang state assembly member, although SRS Consortium continuously claims that the PIL1 expressway is expected to have dedicated bus lanes, this was not shown in the artist impression of PIL1, nor is it officially recorded in the detailed SRS request for proposal documents. The unavailability of the SRS proposal online for public scrutiny certainty creates a breeding ground for misinformation and confusion among Penangites.
If SRS Consortium claims that its transport proposal is superior and more complete than the original Halcrow transport masterplan, why is the Penang state government so afraid to upload the detailed SRS proposal online for public scrutiny? And why is the Penang government constantly defending the SRS proposal instead of critically questioning them on the various deficiencies identified by NGOs?
Until today, the Penang government and SRS Consortium have both remained completely silent on two serious concerns that are found in the detailed SRS proposal:
- A highly unrealistic ridership forecast for the Penang LRT that is significantly higher than most MRT lines in London, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur on a per capita basis; and
- Dubious population density projections for the three SRS reclaimed islands (21,636 people per square km) that are higher than the city centres of London (11,522 people per square km) and Paris (20,909 people per square km).
The people of Malaysia had placed high hopes on the Pakatan Harapan government by voting overwhelmingly for change in the last general election. But what we are witnessing now is a continuation of malpractices that are no different than the previous BN administration.
It is time for the Penang government to walk the talk and live up to its principles of Competency, Accountability and Transparency (CAT).