Drop LRT idea for Sarawak, go for electric bus network, says DAP MP

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii.

PETALING JAYA: A Sarawak MP has panned the state government’s proposal to revive the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project to link Kuching with surrounding towns such as Kota Samarahan to combat traffic congestion.

The DAP MP for Bandar Kuching Dr Kelvin Yii said the proposed LRT project might not be the most cost-effective solution or the most economically feasible, urging instead for the bus service to be upgraded.

Speaking to FMT, Yii said the LRT’s reach to residential areas in Kuching and Kota Samarahan would be limited and that without a proper bus transport network in place, the LRT would not be as effective.

“I suggest that Sarawak upgrade the bus service and provide an extensive bus network instead. Through this, we can implement the use of electric buses for cleaner energy and better environmental protection.

“The LRT is a public transport that involves heavy capital and thus once built, it will have a long-term impact on the economic burden of Sarawak.”

Yesterday, Sarawak chief minister Abang Johari Openg said while the LRT project had been postponed by his government following opposition from “certain people”, “now that they want it again, we may consider it”.

Abang Johari said the LRT was one of the options to solve traffic congestion in heavily populated areas, listing as examples Kuching in the southwest of Sarawak and Kota Samarahan, 30 kilometers away.

“As we progress, transportation becomes a major contributor to air pollution in urban areas and cities.

“Therefore, to overcome air quality degradation, we have to think of options for mitigation such as LRT, hydrogen fuel buses, electric motor vehicles, and biofuel vehicles,” the chief minister was reported to have said.

Work on the LRT system, which will cover the state capital plus the Samarahan and Serian divisions, could start next year and be operational by 2024.

The 155 km stretch will consist of three major lines and will cost RM10.719 billion, Abang Johari said.

But Yii argued that the LRT project would be a “huge financial burden” on the state government.

“The cost may dry up our reserves as the construction of it is just the first step, but taking into consideration maintenance and land acquisition, the cost will go up.

“On top of that, it is permanent and once built, it is difficult to adapt its routes based on any new developments in the area in comparison to the implementation of an extensive bus network, the routes of which can be adapted based on new developments and even traffic pattern changes”.

The Pakatan Harapan backbencher added that with the LRT’s limited reach, it would not incentivise the public to change their commuting habits..

“Abang Johari might be jumping the gun to construct the LRT without first addressing the need for an extensive bus network which may also serve as a barometer or test for future construction of different modes of public transportation.

“Through these public buses, commuting habits of the public can first be changed before the implementation of any other bigger projects.

“Thus, to address the traffic congestion, maybe the implementation of an extensive network of electric buses may be more economically feasible,” he said.

Yii proposed that the roads from Kota Samarahan be upgraded and the roundabouts removed and replaced with flyovers to help alleviate traffic congestion in the area.

“The extra money (saved by not constructing the LRT) could be used to upgrade the roads and basic infrastructure that are lacking in other parts of Sarawak, especially the rural areas,” he explained.

Should the LRT project work out, travel time from Kota Samarahan to Kuching is expected to be cut by half from around 90 minutes during peak hours now.

The LRT system is expected to be funded by the newly created Development Bank of Sarawak (DBOS) and will be managed by the Sarawak Economic Development Council (SEDC).