Penang Forum welcomes the news that Prasarana Malaysia Bhd which is owned by the Ministry of Transport is allocating RM90m to improve the cross-channel ferry service in Penang. Penang Forum applauds the minister of transport for taking this important step.
Ahmad Hilmy and Lim Mah Hui have recently written that with the change in federal government, the effort to improve the ferry service should be made a priority as an important third link between the island and mainland. They said, “Many Penangites would love to use the ferry service if it is efficiently managed and brought up to, for example, the standard of the Hong Kong–Kowloon ferry service. Pedestrian usage of the ferry service has been dwindling over the years because it was infrequent, unreliable and not pleasant. A proper study should be made on the cost of upgrading the ferry service to acceptable standards.”
The KTM railway is an important feeder to the ferry. But the pedestrian link between the KTM railway station and the ferry has been closed for upgrade since 2017, and all passengers have to be transferred via shuttle bus service. Although paid for by MRCB, the shuttle transfer adds an extra 15-20 minutes to their journey. This unanticipated delay can cause people to lose their train or bus connections at either end.
Pengkalan Sultan Abdul Halim in Butterworth is poorly integrated with other services. Pengkalan Raja Tun Uda in George Town has serious accessibility issues. Pedestrians are required to walk a long distance up the steep, uneven ramps to reach the pedestrian waiting area. The built environments around both ferry terminals (in Penang Island and Butterworth) need to be upgraded with good design and facilities so that persons with disabilities will also be able to use the ferry.
The existing roll-on/roll-off ferry fleet currently caters for pedestrians (and cyclists) as well as vehicles. These ferries are not filled to capacity during non-peak hours. Passenger-only catamaran ferries can be introduced to operate at more frequent intervals with a higher load factor. The operation of a hybrid fleet will reduce waiting times for pedestrians and cyclists, especially during non-peak hours.
Despite all these problems, the cross-channel ferry ride is part of the Penang heritage experience. We hope that more will be done to modernise the ferry services and make them the pride of Penang again.
Cameron Kang is a councillor with the Seberang Perai Municipal Council and member of the Penang Forum Steering Committee.