Seven reasons why I am against the Penang transport masterplan

Photograph: The Malaysian Insider

Under normal circumstances, I would be the first to support any plan to promote sustainable transport in Penang and Malaysia. Unfortunately, I cannot support the Penang transport masterplan as it stands for the following reasons:

1. Ballooning costs: The cost keeps ballooning even before it starts. RM27bn was already an astronomical figure. Now we are told it will be RM35-40bn (The Edge interview with the Penang chief minister). And that is excluding the tunnel, mind you. (A figure of RM6.3bn has been mentioned for that.) These are mega projects by any definition – and we used to criticise Mahathir for those, with justification. Whose idea was it to have a road tunnel, anyway?

2. Massive land reclamation: Because the infrastructure cost is so high, it could involve land reclamation of up to 4,500 acres (up from 4,200 acres reported earlier); which would suit developers fine, of course. What percentage of the homes to be built would be for affordable housing? And what is the state government’s definition of affordable housing now? Still up to RM400,000? In that respect, why does the project delivery partner consortium for a transport masterplan include property development firms? How independent are the land swap arrangements likely to be then?

3. Committing too far into future: The land-for-infrastructure swap deal is likely to commit Penang and future administrations far into the future. If the transport masterplan is sound and there are no adverse environmental consequences, then it should not be a problem. But what if it isn’t? It could prevent future administrations from opting for more sustainable, integrated and cost-effective affordable models.

4. Lopsided plan: The earlier figure of RM27bn comprised RM17bn for road infrastructure and just RM9-RM10bn for public transport. This is lopsided in favour of more roads. Anyway, instead of working on preparing the way for sustainable transport first, as recommended by Halcrow, work is starting on major highways under the land-for-tunnel/highways swap deal as early as mid-2016.

5. Inefficient multi-modality: Halcrow proposed buses and trams for Penang but now there are plans to include monorails and controversial sky cabs and Penang Hill cable cars, the state government’s pet project. This multi-modal system means we need to build and maintain different sets of infrastructure, which require different technical expertise, personnel and spare parts – all of which will probably result in higher costs and less economies of scale.

6. Please, no monorails: From what I hear, SRS Consortium wants to replace two (Tanjung Bunga and Air Itam routes) of the seven tram routes that Halcrow proposed with monorail. (Trams used to go right up to Air Itam and Penang Hill, in the past.) It also wants to add a monorail route from Jalan Raja Uda, Butterworth to Bukit Mertajam. (It has also apparently rejected three of the seven tram routes proposed by Halcrow.)

Sustainable transport experts point out that most cities in developed countries have shunned monorail systems and have opted for trams. New York is the latest to introduce trams: New York trams stage an unlikely comeback (Financial Times). So why are we opting for monorail, when that was not in the Halcrow plan?

7. Inflated population projection?: The transport masterplan proponents appear to assume that the population in 2030 is significantly higher (2.5m?) than what the Department of Statistics projects (1.9m). The proponents appear to be just extrapolating forward into the future based on previous censuses.

In reality, the fertility rate and the rate of net migration inwards are both falling; so the average annual population growth rate will only be 1.4% per annum until 2020 and thereafter only 0.7% per annum. This is much lower than the past annual population growth rate of 2.4% from 2000 to 2010.

If we accept the Department of Statistics figure as more realistic, then this alone makes the transport masterplan fundamentally flawed, especially if it extrapolates up to 2065 and overestimates the population even further, based on past annual population growth rates, which were significantly higher. This would result in an overbuilding of the transport infrastructure required by Penang and hence higher costs than necessary.

Final remarks

It is time to move away from all these grandiose ideas for some distant and uncertain future.

Instead we should come up with a real sustainable Penang transport/mobility masterplan and focus on that, concentrating on what can be accomplished NOW and in the next few years.

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Here is the map showing the Penang LRT system, as reported on Oriental Daily today:


My family visited Penang island recently after 10 years.
Shocked to see so many cars on the road, even in the heritage zone.
Need to improve on pedestrian friendly walkway.
The Rapid Penang buses are good, wonder why Penang people prefer to drive than using it.


Has Penang gomen heard of climate change and sea-level rise? Why are they so eager to reclaim land from the sea? Even Mahathir abandoned the idea of reclaiming land along the coast of Kedah.

gk ong

Sea level rise can justify building homes on hills?


Here’s wishing all readers a Happy Lunar New Year 2016.
May Penang achieve a sustainable public transport plan to reduce private car ownership.

ong eu soon

Hahahaha monorail maximum three coaches to solve your transport need . What a crown.


made in malaysia. kl monorail tech no logy

Concerned Penangite

Just for your information, monorail (CRT line 2 & 3) in Chongqing, China currently has 6-carriage train, with 8-carriage train in testing.


I only have one comment, if ever we want to have a tunnel across the channel, please limit only careful drivers to use it, or take serious control on speed limit and drunk driving. Traffic jam on Penang bridge when there is an accident is frightening, the same thing happen in a tunnel across the strait will be 100 times more frightening.


CAT’s eyes have night vision, humans don’t. This is the fallacy of a CAT Short-sighted Vision for Penang.
But then who pays for the astronomical expenses for a sea tunnel except the CAT?
Could this sea tunnel be a political expediency against the Feds cronies of 2 Pg Bridges?
If so, we are dead stupid to allow a CAT to fight an expensive Art of War.


Why LRT,and monorail? To go to Airport from Air Itam, i have to hop onto the monorail, then alight from the monorail and catch an LRT? Cant we have just one system – LRT. Having 2 systems create more congestion, inefficiency and higher maintenance cost. Most people might just end up driving to airport from Air Itam.


Scarry to think.
One side UMNO having a freebies from our Nation Coffer.
Another side hoping the State run by New Goverment on spending spree.
rajraman.Current Generation Spending on behalf of future Generation.Who going to pay the accumulated $$$ “HUTANG”?

John D Weatherley

Well said mate, would like to share a coffee with you?

Tan Wee Theng

In summary,
1. you doubt the population growth projection
2. you feel the overall cost of the plan is too high (to cater for the high population growth which you believe is doubtful)
3. you are concerned with over-committing the state with the source of fund (over-committing in land swap deals) based on an allegedly flawed population projection.
So, we should focus on asking the authority to justify its population growth projection.
For little people like me to appreciate the issue, you should keep the issues simple and few.


For a start, need babies booming on island to sustain the cost of Penang Master Transport Plan? These babies will grow up paying for the follies of mega-minded politicians!


I have only one reason why i dont support the Penang Master Transport Plan because there is no effort to encourage usage of Public Transport by improving and expanding the use of public transport network system (eg RapidPenang or revival of Yellow or Hin Bus system if federal gomen cannot support) so that there is less dependent on private vehicles on the road to minimise the congestion; otherwise there is no ending solution only incur taxpayer money !!! Penang Gomen must be creative to deal with SPAD or Transport Ministry or Finance Ministry to push for more Public System, more… Read more »


ask calvin to show his figures umno is giving more than what penang gomen deserves

gk ong

The BN regime is getting more Protons on the road to save the ailing company? You can never build enough road or widen enough road to cater to the growing car population. Owning a car has been a dream of all young F&F Top Gear people before they even complete SPM, thanks to low downpayment and ready bank loan, to enable them to impress potential spouses while looking for non-3D jobs.