Costly to demolish Penang’s existing buildings for bus or tram system

AS Penang is gearing up to construct Light Rail Transit (LRT), the civil group Penang Forum had organised a forum called ‘Penang Light Rail Transit: A Solution or Financial Distress’ over the weekend to reject the plan and to replace it with the Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART), Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and a conventional tram system.

The main difference between the civil group’s suggestion and the state’s is whether to build the transport system on the ground or on elevated tracks.

The group wants the system on the ground, regardless if it’s ART, BRT, or tram, with the main rationale being it is cheaper.

The basis for this claim is the Halcrow Report, prepared by consultants in 2013 as a guide for Penang’s transport plan.

But the civil group is wrong for two reasons.

First, the estimated cost stated in Halcrow Report is unverified and incomplete.

Halcrow’s estimate doesn’t include the cost for land acquisition, which can go up to the billions, depending on the roads and properties to be acquired.

Here is Halcrow’s disclaimer that was not shared with the public (The ‘Recommended Transport Master Plan Strategy’, page 39):

“It should be noted that all infrastructure provision costs exclude costs associated with land acquisition.

“It should also be noted that these cost estimates have been produced for the sole purpose of gaining a high-level understanding of the overall costs that are likely to be associated with implementing the ‘Recommended Transport Master Plan Strategy’.

“As such, they are based on the adoption of a number of assumptions that are yet to be verified through the undertaking of more detailed feasibility studies.”

Halcrow made it clear that its estimation was unverified and incomplete.

To be sure, the ART is not listed in Halcrow Report. Nonetheless, the unverified costing listed in Halcrow for other on-ground transport system has been misused by the group.

The second reason why the civil group is wrong is that they have failed again and again to take note the important qualification stated in Halcrow Report about transport system that is built on ground in Penang.

Halcrow explicitly warned that on-ground system will add more traffic problems to the existing roads (The Highway Improvement Plan, page 7):

“On Penang Island, particularly within George Town and on the approaches to George Town, many of the existing roads are fronted by established development and are already catering for a wide mix of transport uses.

“The introduction of an extensive Tram and Bus Rapid Transit system, as proposed under the ‘Recommended Transport Master Plan Strategy’, with [sic] further add to these problems.”

As stated in Halcrow, transport system that is built on ground such as tram or bus rapid transit will cause more problems to the present built environment in Penang.

If Penang wants to build on-ground system (ART, BRT, or tram), many existing buildings and structures will need to be demolished to construct new roads as dedicated lanes for bus and tram.

For any state government to acquire premium land with standing building to be demolished to build on-ground public transport will cost a lot. – October 7, 2019.

* Joshua Woo is a former councillor of Seberang Perai City Council.

* 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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