Prepare Penangites for the LRT

Readers Column/ 13 December 2018 Leave a comment


By Timothy Tye

Introducing a rapid transit system to a population requires more than simply determining the route and selecting the rolling stock. Quite often, the success of the system hinges on how well the local authority prepares the population to accept the new mode of public transport.

There is a risk where lack of preparation results in low ridership of rapid transit systems. Without such preparation, once the novelty of taking the LRT has worn out, the population reverts to their former mode of transport, turning the whole LRT project into a white elephant.

To give the proposed Bayan Lepas LRT a higher chance of success, AnakPinang encourages the local authority to implement steps that will help avoid initial low ridership.

In environments where the population is not accustomed to taking public transport, preparations have to be made prior to actual introduction. This is to give the people time to adjust their routine. This preparation phase may take years, and should be implemented the moment construction commences. That way, when the time comes, the transition to LRT can be smoothly executed.

AnakPinang recommends that the local authority introduce a Rapid Penang stage bus route (possibly an adjustment of Bus 401 route) that closely mimics the actual route of the Bayan Lepas LRT. It should be promoted as the forerunner of the LRT. Naturally, it will not be exact to the LRT route, since the latter is elevated, but it should serve bus stations along the LRT route.

The forerunner gives the people an idea of what is to come, and builds anticipation for the LRT, even as construction progresses. During this period, any teething problems can be identified and rectified.

In addition to the forerunner bus route, the free Penang central area transit, or CAT, feeder bus routes should likewise be adjusted to transport commuters to selected bus stations corresponding to the future LRT stations. Commuters transfer from the feeder bus to the Rapid Penang forerunner.

As soon as the LRT is ready, it replaces the forerunner, and the buses used for that route can be re-deployed to increase the number of feeder buses. This ensures a smooth transition to the LRT with ridership assured.

According to the Penang Transport Master Plan, the Bayan Lepas LRT will be a 30km LRT line between Komtar and the future reclaimed islands in the south. The initial phase will reach Permatang Damar Laut. It will pass through important stops along the way including the Pesta Site, SPICE, Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone and the Penang International Airport.

In neighbourhoods with high population density, feeder buses should be introduced to provide final-mile connectivity, so that commuters do not need to walk more than 150 meters from their home. Suggested feeder routes may include Sungai Dua and Bukit Gambir, transporting commuters to the Pesta bus station, which will eventually be the location of the Pesta LRT station. Other feeder routes may include Bukit Jambul and Bayan Baru North (to Bukit Jambul bus hub), Relau and Sungai Ara (to SPICE bus station), Bayan Baru South and Bukit Gedung (to Jalan Tengah bus station), and so on.

The success or failure of this forerunner to the Bayan Lepas LRT depends greatly on the frequency and reliability of the system. It is of the utmost importance that the Rapid Penang forerunner bus be operated successfully, with sufficient number of buses at reasonable frequency, so that commuters will consider it as a viable alternative to driving.

It is unrealistic and even idealistic to expect the whole population of Penang to take the Bayan Lepas LRT. Studies that use the whole population of Penang, and compare it to the entire population of Singapore and Hong Kong, do not offer the correct picture. At most, we can expect only commuters staying within a 3km distance from the nearest LRT station to consider using the Bayan Lepas LRT. Nevertheless, this alone is sufficient if the line passes through densely populated neighbourhoods.

AnakPinang is supportive of the Penang state government’s initiative to introduce its first LRT line on Penang Island. However, it suggests that the government adequately prepare the population ahead of implementation, to make the Bayan Lepas LRT a success.

Timothy Tye is a spokesperson for AnakPinang, a Penang-based civil group.

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