What kind of public transport should Penang have? Elevated Light Rail Transit (LRT), on-ground trams, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), or others?
That’s the question some members of the public are deliberating as the state government works on the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).
Many views have been shared from various perspectives, for instance on construction and operational cost, ridership, safety and traffic efficiency. What I find lacking is the passengers’ comfort. Which mode of public transport is the most comfortable?
I decided to find out by commuting using the different modes of public transport in the Klang Valley.
I started with the LRT to USJ 7, then I switched to the Sunway BRT until Setia Jaya where I transferred to KTM Komuter to KL Sentral. Then I took the monorail to Bukit Bintang to change to the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT).
So in one day, I experienced five different modes: LRT, BRT, Komuter, monorail and MRT.
Here’s my take on each mode, starting with which has the most comfortable seat.
KTM Komuter has the best seating arrangement. The chairs have good back support with headrests. None of the other modes has this. Komuter chairs are also cushioned and clean.
LRT, MRT and monorail have similar plastic seats while BRT uses regular Rapid bus sponge chairs.
Given that the BRT jerks a lot, its chair is the most uncomfortable and causes neck pain after a while. The KTM Komuter is also quite jerky but the chair’s high back support helps.
In terms of ride comfort, BRT is the worst. The inertia when the bus accelerates and stops often throws standing passengers back and forth, and when the vehicle turns, we are thrown to the side, giving us an exercise in balancing skills.
Even though the BRT moves on a dedicated bus lane, there are many yellow transverse bars painted on the road which cause the BRT driver to slow down and make the ride bumpy at many points.
In comparison, LRT, MRT and monorail passengers don’t feel much of the inertia when the train accelerates and stops.
While both the LRT and MRT turn smoothly, the monorail tends to tilt when turning. Besides, the monorail does not seem well maintained. It looks dilapidated compared to advanced monorails such as BYD’s unmanned SkyRail launched in Yinchuan, China, early this year.
Passengers who like to read or work on their phone while commuting will like the LRT and MRT. They give the least discomfort to those who tend to get motion sickness.
The Komuter’s railway track makes the ride more jerky than the LRT and MRT but less so than the BRT. Compared to the Komuter and BRT, the LRT and MRT are a smooth ride.
The LRT carriage is slightly smaller than the MRT but it doesn’t lack in comfort.
MRT stations are the best. They are air-conditioned, clean, informative and spacious. The quality of MRT stations sets them apart from the rest (they are seemingly more expensive as well).
In term of efficiency, the KTM doesn’t score that well. The Komuter has the longest waiting time, at 35 minutes between trains to KL Sentral.
The KTM ticketing system requires passengers to buy a RM5 card that cannot be returned or refunded. The card costs more than my RM3 trip. None of the other transport modes requires such needless charges.
I wouldn’t want the BRT as it’s jerky, bumpy and uncomfortable, like regular buses. We cannot have KTM Komuter as it takes up too much road space for railway tracks.
The best would be a combination of the MRT with Komuter seats installed and cosy underground stations. That would deliver a splendid commuting experience for Penang. However, it would also be too expensive.
What comes closest would be the LRT with its own unique design for Penang. Or Yinchuan’s advanced monorail, but I wouldn’t know if it is as good as the LRT.
Joshua Woo is a former member of the traffic management committee and urban planning committee of the Seberang Perai Municipal Council.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.