With population growth and the trend of people moving further away from the city centre, the light rail transit (LRT) becomes a practical option.
As envisioned in the Penang Transport Master Plan Strategy, which is aimed for completion by the year 2030, a rail-based public transport will play a significant role in the future transport system of Penang Island.
With the implementation of all components – which include an improved highway network, light rail transit (LRT), bus rapid transit (BRT), trams and new ferry services – outlined under the master plan, Penang Island will see closer end-to-end connectivity with better integration, further improved road conditions, less reliance on cars, and higher public transport ridership. In line with this vision, the state government plans to have the first LRT line completed in five to six years. State Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow said that the state’s priority is to implement the LRT system.
However, it will not be a stand-alone project. Chow said the LRT will be supported by an improved bus system, trams and new highways. “It is in the state transportation master plan that buses have their role to play. The LRT or MRT cannot go door-to-door, and even though buses can’t really do that, it will narrow the distance for the last mile. “The design of the LRT – whether it will be constructed above the ground, on the ground, or underground – will have to be looked into by experts,” said Chow. He added that, presently, there are many road intersections that need to be upgraded. According to the master plan, the roads and the intersections will be widened to accommodate buses. “The traffic studies in the plan show that most of the road intersections are operating beyond their capacity and can’t cope with public transport now. This is especially so in towns and new housing areas,” he said.
Major changes underway
According to the state transportation master plan, in the peak hours of the morning, there are about 250,000 trips made in Penang by cars (56%), motorcycles (33%), public buses (3%), and factory buses / school buses (8%). The master plan is intended to cater for the growth of the population in the state, which is projected to reach 2 million in 2020 and 2.4 million in 2030 (from about 1.56 million in 2010). On the island, the population is expected to grow to 871,000 by 2020, and 989,400 by 2030. If the state’s population growth trajectory is maintained, more jobs must be created to cater to the increasing number of residents in the state, which in turn, will lead to a greater demand for public transport.
According to the master plan, if Penang’s current dire public transport scenario continues, it is anticipated that by the year 2030:
> The number of person trips made in the morning peak hours will increase from 225,000 person trips to 335,000 person trips;
> Public transport usage will remain very low, with only 3.8% of all of Penang’s person trips being made; and
> The overall number of vehicle kilometres travelled on Penang’s roads will increase by over 70% (as a result of having a higher number of cars on the road)
If a future target of 40% of all trips being made by public transport in Penang is to be met, radical changes are needed in the way public transport is provided, as well as travellers’ attitudes towards its use. Chow said there are three main components in the master plan – the highways, public transport and the institutional framework – which provide the software, such as skilled human resources, to manage the new public transport infrastructure. “The total cost for the (proposed) projects (under the master plan) is RM27bil,” he said. Out of the RM27bil, Chow said an estimated RM10bil would come under the state, which excludes the RM6.3bil undersea tunnel and the three expressway projects.
The RM6.3bil mega project covers a 6.5km undersea tunnel from Gurney Drive to Bagan Ajam in Butterworth; a 4.2km expressway bypass from Persiaran Gurney to Persiaran Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu; a 4.6km expressway and by-pass from Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway to Bandar Baru Air Itam and a four-lane 12km road linking Tanjung Bungah with Teluk Bahang. The RM3.2mil transport master plan is jointly funded by the state government and the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA). “The state is working very closely with the Federal Government for the master plan and we are grateful to NCIA as the co-funding body for the state transportation master plan,” Chow added. The state transportation master plan was completed in March last year, and the state had started to look into its implementation in January this year.
Rail-based system hailed
Besides alleviating and moving traffic efficiently, the vision of the integrated transportation infrastructure under the ambitious master plan represents a new era of public transport network in the state. Lumbini Consultation traffic engineer Tan Eng Hock said the state transportation master plan will introduce new public transport technology in Penang. “This is its strength. To ensure that the LRT system and the supporting infrastructure are implemented smoothly, the state government should execute the LRT and the supporting projects simultaneously,” said Tan. Furthermore, the existing public transport system – which is disconnected and inadequate – does not fit nor function well to respond to today’s growing population. Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association of Malaysia (REHDA) Penang chairman Datuk Jerry Chan opined that development is inevitable in order to serve an increasing population – whether by birth or through migration.
“We need to build more dwellings and, by doing that, we need to move people from where they stay to where they need to go. “Public transportation, if slow-moving, is a waste of time. Penang is booming in terms of tourism and we can’t turn the tourists away. “At the same time, we can’t tell people not to start a family,” said Chan. He added that the state needs to speed up transportation to satellite towns like Air Itam, Bayan Baru and Paya Terubong. “This needs to be thought through. No city can continue to prosper without addressing housing and transportation needs,” continued Chan.
He also noted a new housing trend – people moving out of George Town and going further away. “Previously, people thought that Greenlane or Tanjung Tokong was far but now these places are considered nearby. “Nowadays, people are accustomed to staying in Tanjung Bungah and going to work in FTZ or living in Balik Pulau and working in the city. “Development is such that people have to move further away from the city centre. However, if there is a push to allow reclamation, then a lot of time and cost will be saved by creating new areas. For residential purposes, it creates more land without having to touch the hills,” said Chan. According to Chan, between the hills and the seas, the lesser evil is reclamation. Another push, he said, is for a more balanced development on the mainland.
“People will follow jobs. If more jobs are created there, then people will consider moving there,” Chan said.
FIABCI (International Real Estate Federation) Penang Chapter president Khor Siang Gin said with the LRT project in place, there would be fewer vehicles on the road. “There will be more Penangites willing to take the LRT rather than drive their own vehicles, due to the rising cost of petrol. “The Bayan Baru area is one of the neighbourhoods with very bad traffic congestion. Double-parking is a main cause. The LRT should take a lot of vehicles off the road,” said Khor. He also said the lack of interconnectivity on the island was a major cause of traffic jams.
Change in mindset needed
The game-changing step taken by the state government to address the state’s plight with regard to transportation issues reflects the state’s determination in taking a holistic approach to resolve existing traffic woes. As observed in both Singapore and Hong Kong, rail-based public transport was realised as a viable solution to support the long-term social and economic needs of these metropolises – and the same should apply to Penang. The master plan is ultimately about putting in place a transport system that supports efficient mobility to propel Penang Island towards becoming an intelligent international city. And Penangites need to play their part – by embracing change in their transport habits in the coming years to ensure a successful outcome of the master plan.
The Star Online
Tuesday, 23 September 2014
Tuesday, 23 September 2014