LRT is Penang’s best bet

SINCE the light rail transit (LRT) project in Penang was unveiled in 2015, a small group of people have objected to it. Although the objections have been addressed on numerous occasions, they are still being raised, with the latest being Lim Mah Hui’s article, “Proposed LRT in Penang is both too early and too late”.

There are two alternatives suggested to replace the LRT plan. First, the bus rapid transit (BRT), and second, the autonomous rail rapid transit (ART). In this article, I want to point out seven reasons why LRT is better than BRT and ART.

My focus is on the proposed Bayan Lepas-Komtar LRT alignment, and not the network covering the whole of Penang.

Safety of commuters, road users

By being elevated, without sharing the road with other vehicles, LRT has no chance of colliding with cars and road users.

Having to share the road, BRT and ART have a high chance of collision. Even with a dedicated lane, they still share junctions, intersections and pedestrian crossings, where an accident is waiting to happen.

Commuter comfort

Anyone who has taken the bus and LRT knows the different in the comfort level of both modes of public transport. Bus rides are jerky and bumpy, and while LRT is not perfect, it is much more comfortable.

To test this, one can try reading a book while on board a bus and LRT. We can often do so in LRT, but not a bus. Why? This is because LRT’s acceleration and braking are more predictable and better-managed than BRT and ART, which face more “chaos” due to sharing the road with other vehicles and road users.

Smooth journey

Just today, a lorry overturned on the Penang Bridge, blocking two lanes of the three-lane road. The congestion was horrendous, with vehicles forced into a bottleneck.

If BRT or ART meets a similar situation, it will get stuck along with other vehicles. Things would be worse if an accident blocks the dedicated lane for BRT or ART. LRT, on its elevated track, will not have such a problem.

CO2 emissions

Giving priority to BRT and ART at junctions and intersections causes other vehicles to spend more time on the road. This will increase their carbon footprint.

LRT does not need the right of way as it moves on an elevated track, therefore, it does not require vehicles to spend more time on the road, thus, it does not lead to increased CO2 production.

Passenger capacity

As LRT moves on an elevated track, adding more carriages to increase passenger capacity will not cause a disruption for road users.

On the other hand, the use of articulated vehicles to increase passenger capacity for BRT and ART increases the risk for crashes involving other road users. This is why articulated buses in London (known as “bendy buses”) were replaced, after it was found that they were involved in 75% more accidents than regular buses. It is estimated that articulated vehicles comprised only 5% of London’s buses, but were involved in 20% of all bus-related deaths.

Beneficial LRT stations

LRT stations serve as shelters for pedestrians and cyclists when it rains. This is an advantage that cannot be overlooked for a place like Penang, with its tropical climate.

These stations can be used as emergency shelters, too. Countries like Singapore have mass rapid transit stations that double up as crisis or bomb shelters, equipped with “protective blast doors, decontamination facilities, ventilation system, power and water supply systems, and dry toilet system”.

It is uncommon to have big stations for BRT and ART due to space constraints. Their stations are less effective as shelters, thus, the public benefit is limited.

People’s right to choose

Finally, the LRT plan provides an alternative mode of transport for the people.

BRT and ART require the closure of at least one lane for their dedicated use. This takes away road space and worsens congestion, which makes driving unbearable. BRT and ART are bound to create stressful conditions that eventually pressure people to stop using private vehicles.

LRT does not crowd the road. It does not cause more congestion. LRT gives people a choice, and that is a mark of democracy.

When it comes to improving mobility, a good policy educates, while a bad one coerces. It is surprising that those who oppose the LRT plan would resort to authoritarianism to coerce people to use public transport.

Proponents of BRT and ART may argue that LRT is more expensive to build and operate. This is still an open question, depending on how much land is needed and what business model is used.

Nonetheless, what is certain is that the seven reasons above show how much better LRT is. Cost is important, but it is not all that matters.

Safety, comfort, smooth journey, carbon footprint, ability to increase capacity, public benefits and democratic rights are likewise important. Why would anyone want a cheap transit system that is dangerous, uncomfortable, disruptive, produces more carbon footprint, cannot increase capacity, has limited benefits and is coercive?

Give us LRT, please. – January 5, 2019.

* Joshua Woo Sze Zeng reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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