These are my thoughts in the video above on the forum on elevated light rail at Recsam in Penang this afternoon.
Experienced transport consultant Dr Rosli Khan, who is from out of town, said Penang is special in so many ways – the island, the beaches, the hills, the food (sotong bakar at Gurney Drive!). These characteristics, he said, should be preserved.
Unfortunately, “PTMP has been done for a different reason altogether. It is not done on the basis of providing what Penang actually requires. Penang does not require three new islands, for instance.” The crowd applauded in agreement.
Rosli suggested Penang consider a policy to limit car usage rather than car ownership, which has not been tried in this country. But that involves coming up with a good public transport system.
Why not look at what our neighbour Singapore is doing as a good model? “People in Singapore don’t suffer because they don’t own a car. … In fact, the money they are not using for private cars, they can use it for something else.
“The way I look at public transport is different from all the super-rich people who want to take advantage of Penang property prices. The way they look at public transport is different. Forgive me for saying this – but I don’t think they planned these facilities and designed them to the needs and requirements of the people of Penang. They are designing them for something else.
“Because even before they spend any money on public transport, they say, ‘Oh, we have to generate enough cash from the land reclamation so that we can sell all this land first; the profit from the sale of this land, then only we spend on public transport.’ What a rubbish way of looking at it! This is utter nonsense!”
Rosli pointed out that trams are much cheaper than elevated light rail and they have priority at traffic lights. An elevated light rail system simply cannot be justified in Penang Island, which has just over 700,000 residents. “You don’t need a system that can move 20,000 people an hour. You don’t. You need a simple public transport system where it also controls the usage of cars on the road.”
“LRT is very expensive to build… – because it demands a right of way in order for it to operate. And in a city centre like Penang you have to forgo a lot of land, a lot of old buildings, in order just to put column after column of LRT guideway for it to operate.
“So that is expensive, horrible looking, very ugly; it’s not aesthetic at all. So you don’t want that to be part of your heritage city. I wouldn’t recommend that.
“In fact, I have come across studies that have said that once you build LRT along certain commercial areas or districts, the value of the properties in the area have actually gone down, it doesn’t increase – because the structure is sitting in front of your doorstep, your shoplot, your showroom. People don’t favour that.”
Rosli went on to explain why trams are the best solution for Penang, concurring with the Halcrow masterplan which recommended them, along with bus rapid transit and ferries.
“There is no good reason for Penang to copy Kuala Lumpur’s problematic transport systems” – KTM commuter, mass rapid transit, light rail, monorail – a veritable rojak, which he described as “a nightmare to use”.
Dr Lim Mah Hui then highlighted the financial risks involved in the elevated rail if the over-optimistic ridership figures were not met. How would the Penang government finance the operating deficits of the elevated light rail, which could reach over RM100m annually? He suggested trackless trams instead which would be so much cheaper to install.
Seberang Perai City Councillor Cameron Kang said the full potential of buses, which are flexible and customisable, has not yet been explored. He urged Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to abandon the third national car idea and replace it with a national bus project, which would create lots of new jobs as well.
Finally, Khoo Salma Nasution revealed that the LRT depot would be located on Island A, but Island B would be reclaimed first. The LRT ridership would be just 81,000 day – and that too, only in 2038. But how would it be possible to reach anywhere near that figure when the catchment population along the LRT line (before reclamation is completed) is just 200,000? She also said not many people are aware that an environmental impact assessment for the light rail is now available, but it has not been seen at the LRT booths in various parts of the state.
Make sure you check out Dr Rosli Khan’s full presentation at 2:35:10 in the video below, followed by the excellent presentations by Mah Hui, Cameron and Salma.