Part1: The need to relook at the Penang Transport Master Plan

Lim Mah Hui and Ahmad Hilmy explain the consequences of bulldozing through a massive infrastructure project such as PTMP.

JULY 24 — On May 16, 2018, the Vice President of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT-M), Rosli Khan, called for a review of mega projects like the ECRL, KL-Singapore High Speed Rail and the Penang Tunnel that do not reflect high level of economic benefits.

On the last project he said, “Penang Tunnel will induce more car travel and will lead to massive traffic gridlocks in Penang Island, a very damaging environmental impact to such a liveable heritage city”.

The Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) should be highlighted to the public for two reasons.

First, it is the largest project the State plans to undertake, estimated at RM46 billion. Hence it must be closely scrutinized. Does Penang need such mega projects? Is it the best use of public funds? Is it financially sound?

Second, the former and present chief ministers of Penang have made this a top priority and touted it as a plan to deliver Penang people from the woes of traffic congestion.  Will it solve Penang’s traffic congestion? Are there better alternatives?

This is the first in a series of 6 articles on why the SRS PTMP should be relooked and reviewed. The present proposed PTMP is too car-centric and focused on mega infrastructure projects, especially building highways and a tunnel, that are unlikely to solve the mobility and transport problems in Penang.

Even some public transport projects like the proposed LRT from George Town to the airport are questionable in terms of financial sustainability. The state should consider other more sustainable forms of transportation that are less costly and more environmentally friendly.

This first article will provide a brief history of the PTMP.

The second will analyse how the SRS PTMP deviates from the officially adopted Halcrow PTMP.

The third will question whether the Request for Proposal process used by the State is an open tender system.

The fourth article will ask whether the tunnel is necessary or able to solve Penang’s traffic woes.

The fifth examines whether the proposed LRT project is financially sustainable. The final article will address what is the way forward

It must be made clear from the start that civil society does not question the need for a transport master plan for Penang.

On the contrary, members of civil society initiated and recommended the idea to the newly elected Pakatan government in 2008.  In January 2009, the State Government established the Penang Transport Council (PTC) made up of about a dozen professionals from civil society, of which Dr. Lim was a member. The PTC, among many other things, worked on the terms of reference to engage a transport consultant to produce a comprehensive transport master plan.

In May 2011, Halcrow, a consultancy specialised in the provision of planning, design and management services for infrastructure development, was appointed to deliver a RM3.2 million study (in partnership with AJC and Singapore cruise consultants) to provide a transport plan to cover a period of twenty years (2010-2030). A major objective of the Plan is to move public modal share of transport from a low 5 per cent to 40 per cent by 2030.

Halcrow began its study in July 2011 and completed it at year end 2012. In the 18 months period,  it undertook extensive series of surveys on travel patterns and held series of meetings and workshops with representatives from government bodies as well as members of public to get their input and feedback.

One of the most important finding was that only 7 per cent of travels are made across the channel between Penang island and mainland during peak morning hours. Results of public consultation by Halcrow also showed overwhelming support to make better use of the State’s existing transport systems and to adopt a balanced approach, i.e., a combination of improving public transport, building some new highways and introducing policy based measures to reduce growth in private vehicle usage, to solving the State’s transportation problems.

Prior to its final acceptance by the State, the consultants were pressured to include the tunnel and three highway projects into the report despite the earlier mentioned findings and the consultants’ view that the tunnel may not be needed until 2030.

The Halcrow report was completed in December 2012 and officially adopted by the Penang State Government in March 2013 as the blueprint for implementation (referred to from here on as the Halcrow PTMP (2013-2030))  at an estimated cost of RM27 billion.

The next article shall examine how the later version of the PTMP proposed by the SRS Consortium deviated from the official Halcrow PTMP.

* Dr Lim Mah Hui is a former professor, international banker and Penang Island City Councillor while Dr Ahmad Hilmy is an Associate Professor,  USM. 

Article originally published at:

Leave a Reply