High time Penang embraced the LRT

IT is with considerable frustration that I pen this letter, my patience severely tested by the relentless opposition to Penang’s light rail transit (LRT) project. Penang’s allure for both Malaysians and foreigners is undeniable, yet the daunting spectre of traffic congestion is turning what should be relaxing holidays into logistical nightmares, compelling many to reconsider their plans.

I currently reside in Kuala Lumpur but have deep roots in Penang, having lived there before and still frequently returning for work and leisure. The conversation around the LRT first began around eight years ago. At that time, detractors dismissed the proposal as unnecessary for a small island with a population of less than a million. Now, the need for the LRT is more evident than ever, yet we are bogged down by the same cyclical arguments.

From the moment the LRT discussion surfaced, it faced critical arguments including some self-proclaimed transport experts, lambasted the government’s plans, advocating for alternative systems without fully appreciating Penang’s unique circumstances.

However, the ongoing resistance is difficult to comprehend. In Kuala Lumpur, the introduction of the LRT and later the mass rapid transit (MRT) has significantly improved public transport, benefiting residents and visitors alike. Why then is Penang still caught in endless debates with no progress?

The notion of the LRT in Penang has remained just that, a notion, stuck on the drawing boards for almost a decade. When the prime minister declared the LRT a federal project, it seemed like a decisive moment was at hand, akin to a climactic scene in a movie. Yet, the excitement quickly evaporated, replaced by sporadic updates without much concrete progress.

The Ministry of Transport’s recent announcement that the LRT project would finally commence this November sparked a flicker of hope once more. However, the persistent undercurrent of dissent focuses on trivial matters rather than the pressing need for efficient public transport.

The opposition to the LRT and the preference for at-grade transit solutions like the autonomous rail transit (ART), overlooks Penang’s land constraints and dense population. Why are we reinventing something that has been tried and test? LRT has proven its worth in Klang Valley by successfully providing an affordable alternative to private vehicle ownership.

The irony is that those who oppose the LRT, possibly insulated by personal wealth and unaffected by daily commuting challenges, fail to see the broader picture. Countless young professionals in Penang spend precious hours each day stuck in traffic, hours that could otherwise contribute to a more productive and fulfilling life. This is not just about convenience; it’s about the economic vitality and future livability of our island.

To the detractors living in their comfortable bubbles, wake up.

Your obstructionism is not just a minor annoyance, it is actively detrimental to the progression and well-being of Penang’s residents. We must confront this issue with the seriousness it deserves. The young workforce, the economic future, and the environmental sustainability of Penang cannot be held hostage to outdated opposition.

More so when we know that the environmental sustainability of Penang hinges on reducing our carbon footprint, a goal that the LRT can significantly advance.

By providing a reliable and efficient alternative to car travel, the LRT will decrease vehicle emissions, improve air quality, and contribute to a healthier urban environment. As cities around the world turn to rail solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change, Penang must not lag.

We need to move forward with the LRT. We need to do so not tomorrow, not after another eight years of fruitless debate, but now. It is time for all parties, government officials, business leaders, residents, and even the sceptics to come together and support a project that promises to transform Penang into a more connected, sustainable, and vibrant community.

The path to a prosperous Penang is paved not with incessant opposition but with informed decisions and collaborative effort. Let us not squander more time. Let us build the LRT and give Penang the future it deserves. If the project had started when it was first mooted, Penangites will be proudly riding the LRT now and enjoying better quality of life, among others. – May 27, 2024.

* Clarence Fong 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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