Returning to first principles, Penang can adopt a holistic and balanced approach to resolving its transportation issues, adopting a paradigm shift towards “moving people not cars”. This can be done with a less expensive public transport system of modern trams, supplemented with Bus Rapid Transit.
Halcrow, a transport consultancy, very clearly recommended a modern tram-based public transportation system, sections of which will need to be elevated. Starting from scratch, we have an opportunity to develop a single integrated system. SRS proposals for four different systems – LRT, monorail, tram and bus rapid transit – will be more difficult and more costly to coordinate, maintain & upgrade. Seamless connectivity will be difficult to achieve and an incremental approach would be difficult to adopt.
When we talk of trams, many Penangites think of the old trams that ran along the roads of Penang (which actually served our transportation needs very well in their day), and hence may think trams are unsuitable for modern day needs.
Modern trams can match the carrying capacity and speed of LRT and monorail. Also, a modern tram running on a grass-capped track is no louder than a car. Trams are also less intrusive, aesthetically and visually more pleasing. They can also run at grade or elevated, they can run in their own right of way or they can run in mixed traffic. Crucially, they can switch between any of these running modes making them the most flexible type of rail.
As LRT is too heavy to expand further around the island, and requires areas of high population density to sustain it, it cannot be expanded over time, which is why SRS proposed monorail; however monorail, running point to point, is the least flexible form of rail, and most difficult to branch or extend in the future. Modern tram vehicles are more manoeuvrable, flexible require only a 11m turning radius compared to the LRT’s 135m, hence reducing the extent of land acquisition.
Modern Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
When we talk about Bus Rapid Transit, many people have negative stereotypes of bus travel.
Modern trams and BRT have low floors so they can easily be boarded at street level, with no need to build costly elevated station infrastructure, which is unfriendly to those who are mobility impaired, e.g., the elderly, the disabled, those with wheelchairs, push chairs, or just those carrying heavy shopping.
Contrast this to large LRT and monorail elevated guideways and large station infrastructure will forever alter the nature of our built environment. Its elevated nature not only impedes access, but costs significantly more and takes significantly longer to construct, disrupting daily lives for longer, it would takes up significantly more space in our built environment, requiring additional land acquisition and much greater tree loss.
When you design for those with impaired mobility, everybody benefits. The proposed station infrastructure for the LRT will have 2 levels, the 1st level a ticketing concourse, the 2nd level the platform, so for the mobility impaired this will mean getting 2 lifts just to reach the platform. Compare this with a street level platform which can be easily boarded by all.
The proposed elevated structures in George Town, overshadowing our historic townscape may also threaten our heritage listing with UNESCO, a key driver of the tourism industry which generates almost 50% of our GDP.