No rail, just road: Group wants Penang to consider new tram system

The Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART) launched in China’s Hunan recently. (CRRC pic)

GEORGE TOWN: A critic of the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) has urged the state to consider a driverless bus and tram hybrid system, saying it is much cheaper than building or maintaining a Light Rail Transit (LRT).

Penang Forum said the Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit or ART is the way of the future as it does not require any tracks or elevated structures and runs on regular rubberised wheels.

Penang Forum steering committee member Lim Mah Hui said the state government’s criticism of ground public transport such as the ART system was unfounded, as it has been proven to solve traffic congestion.

Penang Forum members Lim Mah Hui (left) and Andrew Han at the PTMP forum yesterday.

“It is misleading for the government officials to say ART trams take up road space. In reality, it frees up road space.

“As more people take public transport, it takes cars off the road. We need to move people, ” he told a public forum organised by the state government to get feedback on the PTMP yesterday.

The ART system, which runs on batteries, looks like a tram but can move freely like a bus.

A three-car set can carry 300 people while five cars can take 500 people, with a tight 15m turning radius.

The train usually runs on the median of a road and has the ability to straddle either side of the road.

It has sensors which would guide it through any set of roads and ability to skip traffic lights as it will be given a right of way at intersections.

The system has been in operation in China’s Hunan province since last year.

It was reported that an ART system can be built at a cost of US$2.2 million (RM9.1 million) or less. Penang’s proposed LRT line costs RM8 billion.

Lim said his group was not against PTMP but was simply against projects that are not viable in the long run.

He said the highways under PTMP would return to gridlock as proved in many other cities which added more roads.

Lim said the Penang Forum hoped PTMP could be evaluated by an independent party such as the World Bank.

A view of the public forum on PTMP in Dewan Sri Pinang, George Town, yesterday.

“Penang can always cancel this mammoth project without paying compensation. We need a sustainable public transport system. Let us not go the KL way,” he said.

Meanwhile, Youth for Better Transport group chief Andrew Han dismissed the argument that trams and ARTs can be affected by floods.

He said it was wrong to say that the elevated LRT lines were flood-proof.

“I have lived in Puchong and in Kuala Lumpur. During floods, LRT cannot be used. So what kind of argument is this?

“The state should be resolving flood issues, not by building LRT to counter floods,” he said.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow recently said trams might not be ideal for flood prone Penang, as opposed to LRT.

PTMP project manager Szeto Wai Loong said ART was relatively a new concept, compared to the LRT which had been proven worldwide.

He said ART, like the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, was not sustainable in the long run.

He gave the example of the BRT system in Bandar Sunway, Petaling Jaya, saying it failed to achieve the passenger volume.

“It (ART and BRT) may be good for the first few years, but as the population grows, we might need to change (to a bigger system).

“That is when the public will be inconvenienced and we must fork out more as a new system would be more expensive.”