Ku Weng Keong told Macau Business, âBuilding efficient rapid transit has been identified as one of the most efficient solutions for Macau. However, the development and operation of LRT in Macau “has been anything but smooth.”
MB November 2021 Special report | LRT, the unloved
Ku Weng Keong is Chairman of the Board of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in Macau, a professional organization formed by people in the field of supply chains, logistics and transportation. He is also a young researcher based in Macao and a voice of public intervention in the field of transport.
In Macau almost everyone complains about the traffic, especially on the peninsula, but that doesn’t make LRT a popular project. What do you think about this?
Ku Weng Keong– Urban traffic congestion is the most critical problem encountered in the development of a high density city like Macau. Like major international cities such as Hong Kong, Taipei and Singapore, where rail transits transport passengers to and from their destinations quickly and efficiently every day, building an efficient rapid transit has been identified as one most effective solutions for Macau. However, the development and operation of LRT in Macau has been anything but fluid. Therefore, to achieve the objective stated above, the government must do more to address any issues affecting public confidence and the reliability of operations of the light rail system. If this can be accomplished, the Taipa line can not only work to serve the public, it can also demonstrate to the public the functions of LRT and the benefits for Macau. The extension of the Taipa line to Barra in two years should be a golden opportunity for the government to regain public confidence and iron out the current problems affecting the reliability and efficiency of LRT.
All of the above is in addition to what the government should do to conduct a comprehensive study to determine the root causes of traffic problems in Macau and find alternative solutions, and educate the public on the benefits. and the drawbacks of the different scenarios in order to obtain a social consensus on how to solve the traffic problems in Macau.
For example, one of the main causes of traffic problems on the peninsula is its compact and high density living spaces and the lack of space for other social activities. Therefore, the residential and employment areas should be gradually moved to places like the new salvage areas, in order to reduce the population density in the peninsula and to make room for other activities. Moreover, by building transport infrastructure in new urban areas – especially if this can be done in phase with residential housing – the costs, efforts and possible resistance will be much less than what would occur in established areas. Experiments with attempts to develop light rail on the peninsula have shown that the ânot in my gardenâ mentality runs deep in people’s minds.
In your opinion, is the system currently planned for the Peninsula sufficient or will it sooner or later have to make the connection around the city?
KWKâ The development of the âfirst phaseâ of the LRT system originally connected the border gate, via the south coast of Macau, to the Taipa line. Based on the information available on the internet, there are also a few LRT lines planned together to form an LRT network covering almost all urban areas in Macau. Unfortunately, due to the controversy over the LRT’s routes through the Macau Peninsula and the final route which has yet to be confirmed, the development plan has been significantly affected. It seems that at least in the medium term, the East Line will be opened first, and which will connect the Border Gate, via Zone A, with the Taipa Line, and exchanges with the Hengqin and Seac Pai Van Lines. This recent change in planning is believed to be the result of accommodating both societal and travel demands, which are expected to be compatible with Macau’s urban development over the next decade. Additionally, based on information from MLM, the LRT is a fully automated, driverless train system with the option of two or four unit trains.
Is the Taipa line, considered in isolation, a mistake or, when the flow of tourists returns to normal, will it prove its usefulness?
KWKâ The Taipa Line was never intended as a stand-alone line initially, but there was a long delay confirming the route to the Macau Peninsula, so the Taipa Line had to operate on its own for now, which presents a blow to the expected benefits that the LRT was aiming for in its plan. According to data released by the LRT Corporation (MLM), the average number of passengers per day has been around 2,000 since 2021, which is far below the capacity that the LRT system can deliver. This is largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected the arrival of passengers and the activities of residents. The LRT has not performed at normal levels since it started its paid service in February 2020, which unfortunately coincided with the onset of COVID. Therefore, it is still too early to judge the effectiveness of the Taipa line at this time. Based on the limited information on sponsorship, as reported by MLM, ridership appears to be positively related to the number of tourists. Therefore, to enhance its efficiency, the parties involved in the operation of the LRT should come up with plans to improve their services and promotions in order to increase ridership and revenues. For example, programs to improve the use of light rail services by tourists when visiting Macau should be encouraged. The recent promotion for tourists arriving via Air Macao to freely exchange filled airline tickets for three-day LRT passes appears to be generating a lot of interest. This should be extended to all tourists, allowing them to purchase the three-day pass tickets. Although attempts to set up commercial activities at stations have proven to be less than well received, due to low ridership, other forms of marketing should be considered, for example, advertising outside of trains may be viable given that LRT tracks pass through major tourist sites and residential areas in Taipa and Cotai. This is just to say that the parties involved in the operations, drawing on the experiences of transit operations elsewhere or nearby, may still have room to explore how to increase revenues by any amount to improve sustainability. of its services.
Do the planned interconnections with Hengqin seem sufficient to you, or is this a problem that will suffer from developments related to the increasing integration with Hengqin?
KWKâ With the announcement of the “Master Plan for the Development of the Guangdong-Macao Intensive Cooperation Zone (GMICZ) in Hengqin,” residents will be encouraged to consider living and working in Hengqin as one of their potential options. Therefore, accelerating the construction of transport links connecting Macau with the new urban areas is one of the ways to facilitate these developments and alleviate the traffic loads on the peninsula. Meanwhile, while developing the LRT network as a basic transport policy and strategy in the future, the government should also develop other strategies, as part of a comprehensive approach, to solve traffic problems. common in Macau, such as overlapping bus lines and lack of parking. spaces in older urban areas.
With the continued cooperation between Guangdong and Macao, it is believed that the number of people traveling via Hengqin will gradually increase. As mentioned earlier, the LRT system can flexibly increase its capacity by increasing the number of train units and shortening the lead times. We believe that infrastructure, such as stations, should be designed to take into account the number of passengers to be supported and, if necessary, leave space and design potential for future expansion if necessary. Importantly, the transportation services and passenger experiences connecting Hengqin and Macao will certainly be key in defining Macau’s impression as a thriving tourist city and metropolitan area with a diverse economy. However, with the recent announcement of the GMCIZ, at the moment it is a question of raising the question of whether the GMCIZ and the high-speed stations foreseen in its master plan, which were only recently announced, have already been considered, since the Hengqin line is currently under construction.
Apart from the LRT line, it appears that plans for several road links between Taipa and Hengqin have been presented to the public in the past. They now seem essential to ensure that connectivity between Macau and Hengqin can be seamless. Considering the scale of GMCIZ and the activities envisaged in the master plan, it appears that the associated plans should give due consideration to the later stage of planning and development.