Penang LRT: An unwise use of public funds?

Photo via Free Malaysia Today

By Rosli Khan

The projected passenger numbers, ranging from 5 million to 42 million, are unrealistic.

FMT’s recent Penang LRT piece was very interesting to me in several ways. But let me comment on just one fundamental error, the passenger demand study, which stood out like a sore thumb.

To my mind, the projected ridership numbers for the Penang LRT, ranging from five million to a staggering 42 million per year, appear not just unrealistic but downright perplexing, and reflect a glaring oversight in the assessment of passenger demand.

How could the range be so huge, with a yawning gap of 37 million between the lowest and highest estimates? Who concocted such an absurd range of passenger projections in the first place?

Consider this: at a ridership of five million and on an assumed 16-hour daily operation, the LRT would ferry around 13,000 passengers daily, or 815 per hour.

If the LRT operates every 10 minutes, it is expected to carry only 135 passengers. At this demand figure, Penang doesn’t need an expensive LRT. Three big buses or six minibuses could do the job well enough.

However, even at an inflated ridership of 42 million, that daily figure skyrockets to 115,000 passengers, or 7,187 per hour, for 16 hours of operation. Again at a 10 minute-interval, about 1,197 passengers will be carried.

In comparison, the Klang Valley’s second LRT line, comprising the Kelana Jaya line and the Putra Heights extension, operates in a conurbation with a population of about three million.

It carried slightly over 17 million passengers in 2016, averaging 46,575 daily, at 2,910 passengers per hour, or 485 every ten minutes.

But Penang’s population currently stands at 1.74 million, of whom 947,400 live on the mainland against 792,600 on the island.

The proposed line serves only Penang Island, so the upper end of the projected estimate of 42 million passengers is unrealistic.

Accurate data 

Such disparities not only boggle the mind but underscore the critical importance of accurate ridership data in shaping the system’s design, train capacities and station configurations.

It’s inconceivable that the government would have failed to scrutinise the traffic consultants responsible for these glaring inconsistencies.

Perhaps the fault lies in flawed passenger demand data or misguided assumptions about commuter preferences.

Either way, a demand model yielding such a vast range of figures should have raised red flags from the outset.

Passenger demand isn’t merely a statistic; it is the cornerstone that shapes system design and, subsequently, cost projections.

Hence, a meticulous demand study is paramount to assessing the necessity for such a facility.

My faith in the validity of this study wanes, especially considering that the original demand study was conducted over a decade ago.

Recent revelations suggest that demand figures were revisited to justify a project which commands over RM10 billion in federal funding.

Is this a case of incompetence, or simply a lack of justifiable reasoning?

Regardless, the Penang LRT project’s myriad flaws render it unsuitable for federal approval.

Rosli Khan has spent over 30 years in the transport industry, managing more than 100 consultancy projects.

Source:  Free Malaysia Today (14 May 2024)