Penang S Lrt Decision The Result Of Comprehensive Evaluation


From Joshua Woo
Over the years, the Penang government has reviewed various public transport systems, including light rail transit (LRT), bus rapid transit (BRT), autonomous rail rapid transit (ART), and on-ground trams.
After assessing costs, infrastructure, commuter habits, system features, models from other cities, and expert analysis, the government opted for an elevated system as the backbone of Penang’s public transport network, supported by feeder buses.
Yet, despite repeated explanations, there is still a chorus of pseudo-experts who are adamant in pressing home their debunked opinions.
Let me reiterate five reasons why the state government chose the elevated LRT system:
1. Moves more passengers in shortest comparable time
In contrast to buses, trams and ART, which contend with traffic congestion, the elevated transit operates seamlessly and unimpeded above the fray.
Buses, trams, or ART still have to contend with traffic, including intersections, crashes and congestion. Meanwhile, adding extra carriages to trams or ART to increase capacity will heighten the difficulty of manoeuvring through congested roads.
Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Farhan Sadullah said: “Segregated systems will be more reliable and can provide the closest level of service to private modes.”
2. Low accident risk
Elevated systems offer a safer operating environment compared to their on-ground counterparts. Despite designated lanes, TransJakarta has seen a notable increase in road incidents from 2015 to 2018.
During this period, data shows a 134% increase in crashes and a staggering 233% rise in deaths.
The world-famous TransMilenio BRT system in Bogota, Colombia, has an average of six incidents reported every day.
Similarly, on-ground tram-related incidents in Australia surged from 2013 to 2017, with notable increases in collisions involving pedestrians (85%), infrastructure (175%), and road vehicles (17%). This surge resulted in 192 injuries, 40 damaged structures, and 4,445 vehicle crashes.
3. For future growth
Critics argue that the LRT’s projected passenger numbers are unrealistic, and the need for the system is not justified by the current population of Penang. However, they overlook the fact that the LRT proposal plans for the next 50 years.
Meanwhile, Emir Research and government studies reveal that the Klang Valley LRT is actually overcrowded during rush hour. This has led to additional carriage purchases, while frequency has been reduced to three minutes to meet the increasing peak hour demand.
The Penang LRT needs to avoid similar under-capacity during rush hour. Penang’s population has surged by almost 130% over the past five decades, from 776,124 in 1970 to 1.77 million in 2023.
Neglecting to prepare for future expansion could jeopardise the state’s liveability. The LRT is aimed at addressing both contemporary and future commuting needs.
4. ART’s systemic problems
The ART operates much like a regular bus system on the road, facing common issues like traffic congestion and high accident risks. The average operating speed of an ART is less than 27km/h, while the Klang Valley LRT runs at 40km/h.
Despite ART’s modern technology, it doesn’t overcome the long-standing traffic problems. University of Sydney’s David Levinson said calling the ART a “trackless tram” is silly because it is an advanced bus operating in a dedicated bus lane.
For ART to be effective, it requires elevated roads separate from regular traffic. Yet, if we’re constructing new roads specifically for ART, why not opt for conventional articulated buses instead? They could be more cost-effective, akin to enhancing the existing Sunway BRT system.
Research conducted by the Australasian Rail Association highlighted that the ART is an “unproven technology” and has “significant risks” because the system is locked to a single supplier, which can be difficult for future maintenance.
5. ART’s impact on roads
Research reveals that the ART system exerts a substantially greater load impact on roads, up to 221 times higher than usual. This has led to road deformation (rutting), requiring ART’s corridor to be built with specialised semi-flexible pavement. However, this pavement type also causes cracking.
Simply put, the ART can cause critical damage to regular roads, thereby requiring specialised pavement construction prior to its implementation, plus ongoing maintenance.
Deployment of the ART on Penang Bridge or from Komtar to the Penang International Airport will require extensive road works and maintenance. Closure of one lane for surfacing work – along with the temporary diversion of the ART’s dedicated track – necessitates the closure of two lanes, leading to increased traffic congestion.
That’s why cities adopting the ART, such as Kuching, are expanding their roads, while Johor is planning to construct new elevated roads.
In conclusion, the decision to implement an elevated transit system as the backbone of a public transport network in Penang follows a thorough evaluation of various systems.
We have considered factors such as efficiency, safety, future planning, and analysis of each transport system’s advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, MRT Corporation is now exploring a suitable low-medium elevated system for Penang. - FMT
Joshua Woo is the assemblyman for Pulau Tikus and director of the Penang Infrastructure Corporation.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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