Penang Forum launches Better, Cheaper, Faster transport masterplan, website

Penang Forum has launched a ‘Better Cheaper Faster Penang Transport Master Plan’ report and website ( today, 13 July 2016.

Penang Forum is pleased to launch our proposed ‘Better Cheaper Faster’ Penang Transport Master Plan and website.

This is an initiative by Penang’s civil society groups to provide a viable alternative to, as well as insightful analysis and review of, the RM40bn-plus transport masterplan prepared by SRS Consortium for the Penang state government. (SRS, which stands for South Reclamation Scheme, is a joint-venture between Gamuda Berhad, Ideal Property Development Sdn Bhd and Loh Phoy Yen Holdings Sdn Bhd.)

Lack of transparency, clarity over SRS’ proposal

We are deeply alarmed by the apparent lack of clarity and transparency regarding the financial viability and immense financial risk that come with the projects under the SRS masterplan, which comprises a mixture of LRT, monorail, tram (for George Town world heritage site only) and new road highway systems, each in different routes.

We must know in advance what kind of financial situation we are getting into before deciding on a project. A major reason for the financial failure of the Kuala Lumpur LRT and monorail projects is the poor or inaccurate information given to the government, preventing it from making the correct decisions.

The LRT system is not only more expensive to build, but costs two to three times more to operate and maintain compared to trams. We are in the dark on whether SRS’ proposal provides any detailed financial projections and options of different alternative modes of public transport – LRT, monorail, tram and BRT – to choose from. The Penang state government has the responsibility to provide the public such information before committing the state to such major liabilities.

Shortfall in KL ridership

We note that the LRT and Monorail systems in Kuala Lumpur are experiencing shortfall in ridership.

In KL both LRT companies ran into financial difficulties and could not service their debts. The federal government had to issue RM4.5bn in bonds for the debts of these two companies while the KL Monorail was provided with a RM300m soft loan. In November 2001, the ministry of finance purchased the outstanding debts of the two LRT companies totalling RM5.5bn via another bond issue.

Can state afford high deficits?

There are obvious concerns on the lack of convincing and effective contingency measures in case the projects proposed by SRS encounter financial setbacks.

Penang state’s budgeted revenue in 2016 is RM700m. Assuming the revenue doubles by 2023, a RM126m deficit on this one LRT line is about 10 per cent of the state budget. What about the financial costs of all the other LRT, monorail, tram, BRT and highways?

What if the state is unable to finance the deficit and no financial help from the federal government is forthcoming? Will the projects be stopped? Who will bail out the projects? Is the Penang state government be able to afford such high deficits? Will they impair the financial stability of the state?

Tram, BRT cheaper to build, cheaper to operate
The modern tram and bus rapid transit (BRT) based public transport systems are both cheaper to build and cheaper to operate and maintain.

Interviews with two of the largest tram manufacturers in the world confirmed average construction costs including civil works, rolling stock and signalling plus communication systems range from 18m-25m euros (RM83m-RM115m) per kilometre – far less than what it would cost for LRT and monorail under the SRS proposal.

For example, our calculations show that for the George Town-Bayan Lepas International Airport route, the construction cost per km for a tram system would come up to RM80m compared to RM220m for an LRT system. The total construction cost for the same route would be RM1.6bn for the tram and RM4.4bn for the LRT.

The carrying capacity (PPDP – passengers per hour per direction) for the tram would be between 7,000 and 20,000 riders compared to 18,500 for the LRT.

And the annual operating and maintenance cost for the tram would be RM67m, compared to RM170m for the LRT.

Accordingly, the tram would see a projected surplus of RM20.5m and the LRT would face a deficit of RM82.5m for the George Town- Bayan Lepas International Airport route if ridership is at 25m per year.

Visit our website at

Download the report, including the executive summary at

The press conference:

One reply on “Penang Forum launches Better, Cheaper, Faster transport masterplan, website”

Dear Sir,

Thank you for offering the platform to voice the public view on Penang’s monumental transport project. The key to rapid transport in busy cities are exclusive pathways so that fast, reliable and high capacity services could be provided even during peak traffic hours when the streets turn into a parking lot. Sharing already crammed streets with a street-level solution not only slows the transport service, but also demands a big sacrifice from private car users, a sacrifice that I fear Penangites would be loathed to make. So the big question is how best these exclusive pathways are created – are they tunnels, overhead viaducts, or is there sufficient space for ground level segregated lines. Whether these exclusive pathways are plied by trains, trams, buses or monorails is a secondary question and of course depends on the length, capacity and stop distribution for the route. At the very least, the core routes should be on 100% exclusive, protected pathways so that a dependable backbone for bringing the masses into and through the city is available. The last-mile collection and distrribution services could (should?) be shared street-level options to provide the desired stop-density and easy kerb-side access at the lowest costs. In this respect, the decision to use LRT and monorail is I feel the right one – Penang has to invest now in creating those exclusive pathways for the long-term needs of this fast growing metropolis.

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