GEORGE TOWN: Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB) will be taking over the Penang ferry service that connects passengers between the island and mainland from Jan 1.

Penang Port Commission (PPC) chairman Datuk Tan Teik Cheng said the ferry service which has been in operation for 126 years, will be replaced by 200-seater passenger boats which will only carry pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles and the service will cease to carry four-wheeled vehicles, from the same date.

“PPC will also carry out interim improvements from Jan 1 next year to June 30, 2022 and during that period two passenger boats will be in service, taking only ten to 15 minutes per trip, 40 times a day.

Tan said during the same period, the Raja Tun Uda Terminal (PRTU) in George Town and Sultan Abdul Halim Terminal in Butterworth will undergo renovation and upgrading and the ferry service will be temporarily relocated to Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal (SPCT) on the island.

“This is to provide more efficient services and more comfortable terminals to the public. PPC also guarantees that the fares charged will remain as they are during the interim service period,“ he said.

Tan said while the new boat caters only to pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, four-wheel vehicles would only be allowed in an emergency.

“This catamaran type boat is expected to reduce operation cost as it is easier to maintain compared to the current ferries where the cost of repairing a ferry can reach up to RM2.2 million. It is also difficult to get spare parts because they need to be imported from Germany and Sweden. The makes it difficult for us to maintain the existing ferries this year due to the Movement Control Order (MCO),“ he said.

“PPSB, a member of MMC Group, will take over the ferry service operations from Prasarana Malaysia Berhad, which is in line with the Cabinet’s decision on Dec 18, 2019 but the process of taking over in January this year has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The cabinet also agreed that the Ministry of Finance provides an allocation of RM30 million to PPSB for the purchase of four new catamaran units to replace the ferries,“ he said.

Meanwhile, Tan said two ferries which have become the state’s icon and tourist identity would be turned into floating restaurants and museums at Tanjung City Marina Port, here to ensure its historical value is preserved.

He said the effort was also to ensure nostalgia about the ferry service which has always been a Penang attraction is well-preserved.

“We also welcome those interested in turning the ferry into a floating restaurant and museum to contact PPC,“ he said.

When asked about the impact of terminating the ferry service, especially from the tourism point of view, he was confident that this would not happen because tourists to the state can still see or relive the experience by boarding the existing ferry which will be converted into a floating museum and restaurant that still retains its historical values and elements.

He said, PPC also expects the tourism industry to benefit from the introduction of this new ferry service because it is more comfortable, safer and faster and can carry up to 1.5 million passengers a week.

Regarding the possibility of road congestion due to the fact that four-wheeled vehicles can no longer use the ferry service, he said it would not be a problem because the state has two bridges which can be used by the public to travel between the island and mainland. — Bernama