Penang NGOs hail Loke’s ‘realistic’ remarks on LRT

GEORGE TOWN: Two Penang NGOs have welcomed the transport minister’s remark that the proposed light rail transit (LRT) system might not be the best option for the island, calling it the most realistic comment from the federal government so far.

Speaking to FMT, the Penang Forum acknowledged that the LRT was a good option for public transport but warned that the state might not be ready for it, citing concerns of low ridership.

Steering committee member Khoo Salma Nasution said having only one LRT line on the island would not reduce traffic congestion in the long run. She suggested that the authorities develop a “comprehensive network” of public transport instead.

“We welcome Anthony Loke’s statement and we see this as a call for the Penang government to look at public transport solutions with an open mind.

“We have to weigh the options with evidence, and the best system should prevail. All we want is the best for Penang, which is a smart and green public transport system,” she said when contacted.

Yesterday, Loke said studies had shown that the LRT “might not be the best option” for Penang, and that other modes of transport such as trams should be considered.

The proposed RM8.4 billion Bayan Lepas LRT line will cover 30km, running from Komtar, the state administrative seat, to the three reclaimed islands to be built in the south, with 27 stations in between. It will be self-financed by the Penang government through the reclamation of the three islands.

Khoo said the suggestion for trams came as no surprise as a previous study on public transport in Penang had recommended Rapid Transit Buses (BRTs) and trams as the most effective mode of transportation.

She acknowledged that the state government had distanced itself from trams in the past as they were seen as neither safe, reliable nor fast. However, she added, modern trams had undergone great improvements.

“Technology has changed the landscape of public transportation. We now have buses that are connected and trams that can travel slowly in the city and pick up speeds above 100km/h on long stretches outside the city.

“Ultimately, public transport should not be just one line of LRT stations. It should be a comprehensive and reliable network. We want a network, not just a line that serves one corridor,” she said.

Citizen Awareness Chant Group legal adviser Yan Lee agreed with Khoo, saying Penang should experiment with cheaper public transport options before going big.

He praised Loke for being “realistic”, noting that the island’s population was about 750,000 and the projected ridership might not materialise.

“They can start with BRTs and trams, and develop a better system as the population increases.

“This way, it will have minimal impact on the environment as well,” he told FMT.

Lee also called on the federal government to hold a town hall session to get feedback from the people on the plans to build more roads than public transport.

Former Seberang Perai Municipal Council member Joshua Woo said the fact that Loke’s ministry had done a study on Penang’s public transport options was good news.

However, he maintained that the LRT would be Penang’s best option in the long run.

“It will cause the least disruption to the existing road networks and traffic, and will involve the least land acquisition.

“It will lead to fewer road accidents and provide a more comfortable experience for passengers since it is less jerky than a bus or tram.

“Ultimately, the LRT will be the backbone of Penang island once complete,” he said when contacted.