After nearly a century of service, Penang’s iconic car-carrying ferries will cease operations on Dec 31.
Come Jan 1, Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB), which will take over the ferry service from Prasarana Malaysia Bhd, will operate only fast passenger ferries between the Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal in Butterworth and the Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda) here, while one of the existing ferries will be used to transport bicycles and motorcycles.
This is only on the interim before PPSB introduces the use of passenger-only water buses and vehicle transporters by July 2022.
Penang Port Commission (PPC) chairman Datuk Tan Teik Cheng said the federal government had set aside RM30 million for the purchase of four units of the water buses and vehicle transporters.
Tan said about RM64 million was needed for the purchase of the new fleet of boats and terminal refurbishment. PPSB is expected to bear the remaining costs.
He said PPSB had tabled its business plan and new ferry development plan to PPC on Nov 19. The PPC board, which sat on Nov 24, had reviewed both plans.
He added that on Dec 2, PPC and PPSB had made a presentation to the state executive councillors.
“The decision by the PPC board and view of the state executive councillors were then brought to the attention of Transport Minister (Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong), who decided that come Jan 1, 2021, the ferry service for passengers, motorcycles and bicycles will be taken over by PPSB.
“The ferry service for passengers will use fast ferries while for motorcycles and bicycles, the existing ferries. The service of car-carrying ferries will no longer be provided come Jan 1, 2021, as announced by the minister in Dewan Rakyat on Dec 7,” he told newsmen today.
Present were PPC general manager Monaliza Suhaimi and PPSB chief executive officer Sasedharan Vasudevan.
The first cross-strait ferry service has been operational since 1894, making it the oldest ferry service in Malaysia. It was initiated by Quah Beng Kee, a local entrepreneur here together with his four brothers, forming a company named Beng Brothers.
Originally, a passenger-only service, the ferries were later refitted to carry automobiles in 1925.
The prototype of the current fleet of ferries, named Penang, was delivered in May 1957.
At present, about 1.3 million foot passengers use the ferry service while only about 240,000 four-wheeled vehicles utilise the ferry annually.
Elaborating, Tan said in the interim period, both ferry terminals would be refurbished and renovated to handle the new water buses and vehicle transporters to ensure more effective service while ensuring the comfort of all ferry users.
He said the ferry operation hours would also be changed in the interim period to coincide with the works to be carried out.
“However, PPC assures that the ferry service will not be interrupted, and the fares will remain the same in the interim period,” he said.
Tan said when the new fleet of boats begin operations by July 2022, the two existing ferries would be transformed into a floating restaurant and a floating museum respectively, which will be docked at the Tanjung City Marina.
“We want to preserve its historic values and iconic elements,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, Sasedharan said the water buses would be able to accommodate 200 passengers while the vehicle transporters, about 100 motorcycles.
He said the vehicle transporters would also be able to carry four-wheeled vehicles in emergency cases, such as fire engines and ambulances in the event of any incident on the bridges.
“The new fleet of boats, with a cruising speed of between 12 and 125 knots, will reduce travel time to 10 minutes during peak hours and 15 minutes during non-peak hours. The existing ferries’ cruising speed is only between seven and 12 knots.
“We are looking at providing a maximum of 40 trips daily,” he said.
Asked if Penang Port would consider appeals by numerous quarters to maintain the car-carrying ferries, Tan said they would review the appeals.
“However, this is a new plan, and we should give it some time to work first. These are changes which we should adapt too,” he added, noting that Penang already has two bridges for four-wheel vehicles. – NST