Penang DAP has suggested to the state government to build a sky-lator (sky escalator) for the Penang Hill instead of the RM400 million mega aerial cable car project because "it is cheaper, more reliable and viable than even the present funicular train."
Penang DAP Citizen Against Government Waste Committee chairperson Teh Yee Cheu said a sky-lator will also increase the volume of visitors and tourist dollars to the hill resort.
He said at its full capacity, the sky-lator can accommodate 200,000 commuters daily compared with only between 5,000 and 10,000 people by funicular train which is presently being used and 15,000 passengers by cable car.
The state government has recently announced that it wants to replace the funicular train service that has been in operation since 1923.
However he argued that compared with other modes, a sky-lator can operate on flexible time schedule and cause minimum environmental damage.
Moreover, he said it would be easier and cheaper to maintain the sky-lator.
"After all, it will be a new attraction for tourists visiting the Penang Hill," said Teh, who contested and lost the Air Putih state constituency, which encompasses the Penang Hill area, in the last general election.
"It's time for the state government to consider the sky-lator as a crucial transportation mode for foot passengers visiting the 2,000m high Penang Hill, a famous natural landmark for the state," he told malaysiakini.
Sky-lators are being used in Central District Hillside in Hong Kong and in Songkhla, Thailand.
At present, visitors travel via the train, jungle tracks and the hillside road to visit Penang Hill.
The state government has been projecting a prestigious cable car link between Penang Hill, which is located in the centre of the island, and the north-west tourist area of Teluk Bahang.
Once implemented, the cable car is expected to be a major tourism booster.
However, Teh believes a sky-lator should be given priority over the cable car.
"It will cost only between RM25 and RM30 million to build the sky-lator on a straight 2km stretch without stoppages or with interchanges at strategic points," he said.
Teh submitted a written proposal to Chief Minister Dr Koh Tsu Koon last month urging the state government to consider his proposal.
"Since a sky-lator cannot be loaded with cargo, the funicular train service can be maintained to ferry goods to and from the hill," he said.
He said the state government should, at least, commence a feasible study on his proposal.
The funicular train service was abruptly disrupted when clamps holding a 2km cable between the middle and upper stations gave way during upgrading works last Dec 8, causing the cable to slide downhill, damaging the track and other installations along the way.
The incident, however, did not halt operation between the lower and middle stations.
Nonetheless, this has prevented nearly a million visitors from traveling to the hilltop causing an estimated RM2.7 million loss in tourism ringgit over the past six months.
The upgrading and repair work between the lower station and upper station has been completed at a cost of RM2.52 million. The funicular train service is on a trial run at present and expected to be fully operational by next month.
Teh said such heavy losses and costs can be avoided in sky-lator operations as its maintenance and repair works are not expensive.
"The state government should not brush aside the idea but rather give it serious consideration," he said.
ATHI VEERANGGAN is malaysiakiniís Penang-based stringer.
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"