Why Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit is unsuitable for Penang

A certain group has been lobbying the state government to install the Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART) in Penang instead of the planned elevated Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The group presented its proposal using the same slides and video that the ART’s developer, CRRC showed to chief minister Chow Kon Yeow.

Although a spokesperson for the group denied that they were ART salesmen, they pitched their proposal to the state government, lauding ART as an advanced system that “has been proven to solve traffic congestion” even though the system is only being tested on a 3-km route.

ART does not need tracks because it has tyres, like a bus. So, basically, it is a bus that is designed like a tram. Therefore it shares many of the disadvantages of a bus-based transit system such as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

There are at least three reasons why ART is not suitable for Penang.

ART needs a dedicated lane to be efficient. In installing ART (say along the proposed LRT route from the airport to Sia Boey), a whole stretch of road needs to be closed.

Traffic congestion is already happening during peak hour with the current roads. It becomes worse when a car breaks down or an accident occurs.

Now, imagine what happens when one lane of a three-lane road is closed for ART and a car breaks down in the middle lane. That leaves only one lane for cars, motorbikes, and lorries during peak hour – the worst nightmare for road users! Without the dedicated lane for ART or BRT, there are at least two lanes left for vehicles.

Elevated LRT does not need to close roads and does not disrupt present traffic.

Like BRT, ART will come across road junctions and traffic lights. By stopping at these spots, ART increases passengers’ travelling time.

To reduce the increased travelling time, there is a suggestion to prioritise ART by installing traffic lights that allows ART to move first before other vehicles.

In this way ART would be less inefficient. However, it also means delaying traffic for cars, motorbikes, and lorries.

By having other vehicles spending more time in traffic also means more carbon emission. Even though ART uses electricity, it indirectly makes other vehicles produce more CO2, which defeats the very purpose of the ART’s usage of electricity. Therefore, in terms of being a green technology, ART is self-contradicting.

Elevated LRT does not need to stop at junctions and traffic lights, or cause other vehicles to spend a long time on the road.

What about an elevated ART? If an elevated infrastructure is to be built, then it might as well use LRT, which has a centralised coordinated system for optimum efficiency and better passenger comfort.

ART does not have the conventional tram rail buried in the road. It uses a sensor system that recognises virtual rail, two white lines painted on the road.

What happens if the sensor breaks down? The dedicated lane cannot be used and ART cannot operate.

Doesn’t the elevated LRT track’s system break down too? Yes, it does. The difference is that there is still a wide road for commuters to use with other vehicles when the LRT cannot operate. In ART’s case, the lane dedicated to ART’s sensor system cannot be used when maintenance work is being carried out.

In other words, LRT track failure at least does not take up road space and leave it unusable by others.

ART’s salesmen may claim that their system has proven to solve traffic congestion, but there are these deficiencies mentioned above that they need to be addressed in their sales pitch. Moreover, ART does not have much of track record of successful implementation. To employ it is to subject Penangites to a guinea pig project.

AnakPinang is a Penang-based civil group.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.