GEORGE TOWN, Dec 28 — Penang Port Commission Chairman Datuk Tan Teik is expecting more passengers to take the new fast boats plying the Penang channel in place of the old ferries starting January 1.
He said the fast boats can ferry passengers across the channel between the island and the mainland in seven minutes with each trip taking a maximum 200 foot passengers.
“The fast boats are comfortable, air conditioned and fast so we expect more people will take it to travel between the mainland and the island,” he said.
Tan said in 2019, about 1.3 million foot passengers took the ferry to cross the channel and he expects the number of foot passengers to increase to 1.5 million or more with the fast boats.
“Many people used the ferries to get to work or to go home after work so with fast boats, maybe more will opt to use it as it gets them to their destination faster than the old ferries,” he said after unveiling the two new fast boats to the media at the Port Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal.
The ferry operator, Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB), has leased three fast boats for the interim period between January 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022 to carry foot passengers to and fro the mainland and the island pending the arrival of new water buses and vehicle transporters.
Meanwhile, the ferry terminals on both the island and the mainland will be upgraded and renovated to fit the new water buses and vehicle transporters.
“We hope the new water buses will arrive even before the 18 month interim period, we aim to provide a more efficient and better ferry service to passengers,” he said.
He said in the interim, the fast boats will provide a speedy commute for passengers to cross the channel as opposed to the current old ferries.
“The whole ride only takes about seven minutes and there is minimal waiting time for embarking and disembarking,” he said.
He said the fast boats will keep to its 30-minute interval schedule and adjust it as necessary depending on the number of passengers boarding the boats.
“These boats will make 40 round trips per day so we are expecting to take more passengers per day compared to the old ferries,” he said.
He reiterated that the purpose of the change was to ensure that commuters get to their destination in comfortable, fast and safe conditions.
He hoped passengers will try out the fast boats especially when it is free in the first two weeks of operations next year.
Only one old ferry, Pulau Angsa, will continue to operate to ferry those on motorbikes and bicycles across the channel in the interim period.
All vehicular ferries for four-wheeled vehicles will be discontinued entirely from January 1 onwards and even the new vehicle transporters will only ferry two-wheeled vehicles and emergency vehicles.
The Transport Ministry’s decision to retire all of the old ferries has attracted criticism from several quarters, especially Penang lawmakers.
Many had called for the iconic ferries to be maintained and for the new water buses to complement the existing ferries instead of replacing the ferries entirely.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the state government wanted the federal government to change the current fleet of ferries with new ones and continue with the service as a mode of public transport that is more efficient while maintaining the iconic and heritage look.