GEORGE TOWN: Ferry commuters will not be left in the lurch when the iconic Penang ferry service comes to an end on Jan 1.
Two “fast ferries” will be used to carry commuters from the Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal and a new bus stop will also be built near the pier along Weld Quay for the convenience of foot passengers.
On the Butterworth side, a pontoon will be put up adjacent to the existing Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal.
Shuttle services will be provided for the elderly, disabled and pregnant women on both sides during this period as all landing will be on ground level, unlike the two-tier setting at the present ferry terminals.
Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB) chief executive officer Sasedharan Vasudevan said the temporary arrangement would last until refurbishment works were completed at both ferry terminals in 12 to 18 months’ time.
During this time, one iconic Penang ferry will be retained to ferry two wheelers at the Raja Tun Uda ferry terminal in Weld Quay.
Meanwhile, four wheelers will have to use the two bridges – Penang Bridge and second Penang Bridge – effective Jan 1, as per the Transport Ministry’s decision.
Sasedharan said the refurbishment works at both ferry terminals along with the acquisition of three water buses and two vehicle transporters would cost RM64mil, with RM30mil given by the Federal Government.
PPSB will take over the ferry service from Prasarana Malaysia Bhd from Jan 1.
“A water bus can take in 200 passengers at any one time, travelling at a speed of 12 to 15 knots (22-27 kph), which is faster than the speed of the old ferry (seven to eight knots).
“As for the vehicle transporter, it can accommodate 100 motorcycles.
“We are looking at a conservative time of 18 months for the refurbishment to be completed before the water buses and vehicle transporters can be brought in.
“But it could be earlier, ” Sasedharan said during a joint press conference with Penang Port Commission (PPC) chairman Datuk Tan Teik Cheng on the new water buses and vehicle transporters yesterday.
Early this year, serious concerns were raised as the present fleet of ferries repeatedly caused disruption to commuters.
The Penang ferry service was suspended due to a technical glitch to two ferries, Pulau Angsa and Pulau Undan.
Two others – Pulau Talang and Pulau Kapas – had to be grounded for engine overhaul and upgrading work.
Tan said the last two remaining vessels would be turned into a floating museum and restaurant.
“Any interested parties can submit proposals which will be done through open tender.
“The two ferries, which are more than 40 years old, will remain docked at the Tanjung City Marina in George Town.
“It was not an easy decision to retire the ferries, but it has to be done due to old age and cost of repair. The engine spare parts have to be bought from Germany and Sweden and due to Covid-19 restrictions there, it was difficult to obtain the parts.
“But it is a rational move as the two bridges are readily available and 1.2 million out of the 1.5 million ferry users were passengers, ” said Tan.
He said the ferry rates during the interim period would remain the same at RM1.20, adding that it would only be revised once the terminal is refurbished and the water buses begin to operate.
“This is subject to a decision by PPC after consulting all stakeholders and approval from the Transport Ministry, ” he said.