Expert sees Penang losing RM1.2 billion if LRT project takes off

Roger Teoh (right) at a talk organised by the Penang Forum in George Town.

GEORGE TOWN: A transport expert warns that Penang’s proposed Light Rail Transit (LRT) system could lose RM1.2 billion in ticket revenue over its first 10 years of operation due to a lack of passengers.

Roger Teoh, who is a postgraduate at the Imperial College London centre for transport studies research, said the RM8.4 billion Komtar-Bayan Lepas line proposed for the island was not worth pursuing as it would eventually require a bailout.

For starters, he said, the proposed Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1) highway would run along a similar route spanning the north-south corridor of the island.

The PIL 1 highway and LRT would also have similar endpoints close to the airport, which would result in the public having to choose between taking a 40-minute LRT ride or a 15-minute drive on the highway, he said.

Teoh also noted that Penang’s car modal share on the island was 96.8%. Given the 1.39 vehicle-to-population ratio, he said, the LRT would not likely be favoured by the public.

He cited the projected first-year ridership numbers for the Penang LRT line which he said rivalled even mature transit lines in London, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore at a staggering 42 million passengers expected per year.

Even assuming that Penang’s LRT line took in 10 million passengers per year – still an exaggeration since the population on the island was reported to be slightly above 700,000 – the project would result in losses from the get-go, he said.

“That’s a loss of RM120 million a year, which is 20% of last year’s state revenue of RM500 million.

“If you multiply RM120 million by 10 years, that is RM1.2 billion,” he said.

He warned that the Penang government, not the LRT builders, would bear the full brunt of the losses.

“The unrealistic 42 million ridership forecast has been raised four times in public, but we have yet to hear a response from the Penang government.

“While I am fully supportive of the LRT system, we have to be realistic: we do not have the right population for an LRT line,” he said at a talk organised by Penang Forum yesterday.

The proposed LRT line has caused a stir, with civil society groups against it and supporters saying it will ease the massive rush-hour traffic and improve public safety.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke recently said his ministry had found that the LRT would not be “the best option” in the long run, suggesting the use of other systems such as the bus rapid transit and trams.

The proposed Bayan Lepas LRT line will be about 30km in length with 27 stations running from Komtar, the state government seat, to the future three reclaimed islands in the south.

The line will serve the industrial area in Bayan Lepas as well as passengers from the Penang International Airport. It will cross residential townships and employment hubs in Jelutong, Gelugor, Batu Uban, Bayan Baru, Sg Tiram and Batu Maung.