ONE or two light bulbs must have lit up in the Penang Island City Council mayor’s head when he got a surprise boat ride after a cycling trip through the dirt trails of Balik Pulau.
Datuk Yew Tung Seang’s bike ride ended in Pantai Malindo, also known as Kuala Sungai Burung in Balik Pulau.
This is one of those off-the-beaten-track attractions on our island.
You can walk along the river bund there and wait for a sunset that is to die for.
To see the sky turning burnished gold as the sun dips into the sea — the furthest possible horizon — is not something islanders can always behold because most of us live on the east side, with Penang Hill flanking our west.
And there is one more goodie here: prawn noodles.
Inshore fisherman here excel at catching prawns, so the noodle sellers can conveniently add fresh prawns, firm and sweet.
But Yew’s pleasant day was not over yet.
A former assistant chief photographer of The Star, Wan Mohizan Wan Hussein, is a Balik Pulau guy. He took optional retirement from the company and now runs a fishing boat charter.
And since his boat is docked at Kuala Sungai Burung, he offered Yew and part of his entourage a ride.
Yew even got to pilot Wan Mohizan’s boat around Pulau Betong (a tiny isle on the western sea from Penang island).
And that was when he got his epiphany.
How much time does it take to go by boat from Balik Pulau to George Town? Yew asked Wan Mohizan.
Why can’t water taxis be used to bring commuters around the island?
What kind of costs are involved?
Cruising happily at sea, it is easy to realise that the surrounding marine geography is a transport channel.
It is not cheap. Wan Mohizan pointed out that a boat needs more fuel than a car, kilometre for kilometre.
But if enough people share the cost, then to commute by sea, free of the angst of traffic jams and lousy drivers, might be doable.
This is in the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP): water taxis with multiple jetties around the island and even the mainland.
Water taxis are set for implementation only 20 years later, so I am glad that the mayor had the chance to experience travelling by boat in Penang first hand. Maybe he can help bring it forward.
I hope that someday, tourists will have the chance to get on a boat after getting off the plane and take a breathtaking ride under both our bridges on the way to Batu Ferringhi. They will be spared our jams.
Mind you, we are still going to Batu Ferringhi on colonial day roads.
But the big question is, where is the PTMP?
We are all still waiting and I have been hearing businessmen grumbling already.
What’s going on, now that state and federal government leaders are bedfellows?
Penangites can understand delays in the past, but what is delaying it now?
The latest update we have is that approvals for some components of the PTMP are “coming soon”. August, or something like that. I marked it on my calendar already.
There are PTMP dissenters, of course; there always are.
But perhaps Penangites would like to see stronger political will and more speed.