Comparing planned extreme high cost SRS projects vs. Penang Forum call for a new Transport Master Plan
Translated from Chinese interview of Dr. Ahmad Hilmy, transport and city planning scholar from the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), which appeared in the China Press of August 13, 2016. Dr. Hilmi closes the interview by stating frankly his recommendation that “the government engage independent experts to study both the proposals by SRS and the NGOs, based on best scientific estimates of construction cost, acquisition cost, maintenance and operation cost, life cycle, opportunity costs and externalities, ridership, environmental and life quality impacts, cultural and heritage issues, impacts on vulnerable populations, etc., instead of keep on arguing.”
For full background on the fast-growing struggle to create a sustainable transport system for Penang. we direct you to The NGO Challenge Dialogue at http://wp.me/p3GVVk-xJ. The picture is rather murky at first due to considerable obfuscation on the part of the current administration, but if you are interested please take the time to work your way down through that top right menu section also entitled NGO Challenge Dialogue. You make up your mind, and if you have any comments, corrections or suggestions these pages are entirely open.
Looking at the issues and choices form a purely non-political scientific perspective Mr. Hilmy made the following important points:
1. The designated Penang city center (Komtar area) is not suitable to be a major transport hub as the area is too small, and traffic already too congested. Once the transport hub is in place, it will bring yet more traffic to this area, and in the process lead to more congestion in the congested area.
2. Modern tram’s maintenance costs are lower than LRT as it is on the ground, and thus does not need to take down from the elevated structure for maintenance. *
3. Regardless of tram or LRT, both involve moving in an environment of underground works and cables. The cables underneath the LRT pillars would need to be relocated as well.
4. Due to the narrow streets of Penang, both LRT and tram will involve acquisition of land if they are chosen as the main linehaul carrier. However, there are other lighter options that deserve to be examined (buses, busways, BRT and HOV lanes among them).
5. SRS tells us that the soil in Penang is soft, so not suitable to build trams. But please, do not tell me that LRT is not heavy! LRT also needs to build elevated structures on the so called soft soil.
6. The expert disagrees with the proposed PIL1 as it is competing with the proposed public transport system. Imagine if someone can travel from Gurney Drive to Bayan Lepas in 15 minutes’ time, do you think they will take public transport? It you are going to the airport with heavy luggage, are you going to walk to some convenient location to take the public transport?
7. The expert proposed that the current linehaul carrier should be extended, ie from Bayan Baru to Ayer Itam, Ayer Itam to Tanjung Tokong etc.
8. Finally, the transport planning scholar proposed that the government engage independent experts to study both the proposals by SRS and the NGOs, based on best scientific estimates of construction cost, acquisition cost, maintenance and operation cost, life cycle, opportunity costs and externalities, ridership, environmental and life quality impacts, cultural and heritage issues, impacts on vulnerable populations, etc., instead of keep on arguing.
* There was apparently a problem with the translation here. Upon being questioned the interviewee wrote: “I don’t rightly remember my exact words on point 2 but what I do remember is that I gave the example of the monorail fire in KL last year where the fire brigade had a hard time bringing down passengers from the elevated structure. The discussion centered around the general difficulties with working and operating elevated systems compared to ground-based systems. I probably gave a wrong impression to the reporter.”
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About the author:
Dr. Ahmad Hilmy is a lecturer in a public university. His research interest is on Land Use-Transport interaction, Bus service provisions, Area wide Traffic Impact. He spent two years in the Middle East as a Transport Planner, and was engaged in Transport related consultancy service for 10 years in Malaysia before working as a lecturer in the University. He has now worked in universities for a total of 20 years. The experience of working with government and industry in the field has helped him understand the issues and available choices beyond the limits of ivory towered theory.
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About the editor
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Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at https://goo.gl/9CJXTh and @ericbritton