Think twice before building LRT in Penang

(Bernama pic)

In the article, “7 reasons why LRT plan in Penang beats BRT and ART”, dated Jan 5, Joshua Woo Sze Zeng lists out reasons why the LRT is a preferred or better mode of transport compared to the BRT and ART. However, my view is that the state government should improve our public transport system before committing to permanent concrete structures like the LRT.

Firstly, the LRT may not necessarily prove to be safer and smoother for commuters because accidents can occur even there. But it is understood that the LRT would pose less risk.

Speaking of accidents, the Penang Transport Master Plan (which proposes the LRT) focuses on building more highways for motorised vehicles. In fact, building more highways will lead to road accidents.

Isn’t this more of a reason not to build highways anymore in the Penang Transport Master Plan, especially when traffic congestion will be back to square one after a few years? I would prefer if we could focus more on non-permanent infrastructures such as modern trams, BRT or ART.

Secondly, the LRT is not necessarily more comfortable for commuters. I’ve taken trams in other countries like Hong Kong, Czech Republic, the UK (Nottingham), etc, and I found them to be comfortable and modern.

On the other hand, I have taken the LRT in Kuala Lumpur, and at times, I experienced jolts. So, it is all very subjective. The LRT will not be convenient for senior citizens because they will be required to take the stairs and use escalators or lifts. Lifts and escalators need to be maintained frequently.

All these, including LRT carriages and tracks, need costly maintenance.

Thirdly, if modern trams, the ART, BRT, or even just buses are planned properly for commuters, more of us may use public transport. If more people use public transport, there will be fewer vehicles on the roads and less carbon dioxide emission.

If there is proper connectivity in the public transport system, this will allow people a real choice between driving cars or using public transport in their daily travels.

Most people would use public transport as a preferred choice over cars after considering all related factors such as affordability, convenience, efficiency, reliability and so on.

For example, if I had both options now, I could opt to drive to work if I wake up late, but if I wake up early, I can take the efficient, reliable and affordable public transport with good first and last mile connectivity to work.

Even implementing the one LRT line that has been planned for connecting the airport and Komtar won’t be convenient for most people because they will still have to take other modes of public transport or drive to Komtar or the airport to park their cars. (I wonder where we will find so much land to build car parks.) Then, upon reaching the destination, we will also have to rely on other public transport to connect for the last mile.

Therefore, I am not convinced about the plan to build this costly LRT. It is really tiring for daily travellers like me to change multiple public modes of transport just to get to a destination, especially to get around in a small island like Penang. We will end up wasting our limited resources.

I would rather we use these resources to improve the current public transportation and add on new non-permanent infrastructure for transportation such as modern trams, BRT or ART.

If public transport is designed properly, with increasing coverage, reliability, affordability and efficiency, I believe that it will not fail in Penang. There is a readymade market awaiting public transport.

Fourthly, our current public transport ridership is too low for us to consider building an LRT. To believe that the LRT will magically increase public transport usage is unrealistic.

Furthermore, one may forget that to build the LRT will also take up one lane, and space along the roads to put up the concrete pillars.

Fifthly, it is ridiculous to say that the LRT’s other benefits for the public would be to serve as a shelter such as during the rainy season.

So when floods happen, does this mean that everyone can just stay on the elevated concrete structures? Why would we spend so much just to have such a “benefit”?

Many years ago, I agreed that we should have an LRT seeing that our federal and state governments are not in line with each other. But not anymore now as the state and federal governments are under the same coalition.

Lastly, our country is in debt. As such, I believe that it is better to plan for modern trams, BRT, ART and/or efficient buses that ply all routes first. I hope the government will start with a less costly measure first. We can always have a bigger plan in the future should these low-cost solutions not meet our needs.

All in all, the LRT is not a great idea. I would like to call upon the policymakers and politicians to study the situation in Kuala Lumpur first before repeating the same mistakes in a small state like Penang which I call my hometown.

Jackie Moey is an FMT reader.

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