Updated: The ferry service has since resumed operations, though it remains a much-reduced service.
After years of being neglected or sidelined, despite repeated warnings of such neglect in this blog, the 126-year-old ferry service connecting George Town in Penang Island with Butterworth on the island has finally been disrupted due to “technical problems” affecting all four remaining ferries. This is probably the first time there has been no ferry service since the Japanese and later Allied bombing of Penang during World War Two!
What a sad day for Penang. Even when the old Butterworth ferry terminal collapsed in 1988, at least half the ferry service was able to continue through double-decker vehicular ferries at the new terminal that was operating next to it. But the old ferry terminal was never rebuilt, and the number of ferries was halved from about a dozen ferries in operation to just half a dozen.
As the years passed, the ferry service continued to be neglected and treated as a stepchild, especially after the Penang Bridge was built in 1985. In recent years, the number of ferries was whittled down to just four – and that too only during peak hours – and in recent days, just a couple. Many just gave up on the ferries due to the long, long waiting times – and countless productive hours lost. And yet, it was the most sustainable and shortest way of commuting between George Town and Butterworth.
As one Penangite said: “I am soo sad about the Penang ferry. I love the slow, beautiful ride. It’s Penang’s iconic heritage landmark. The Penang government could have revamped it into a tourist attraction while enabling passenger load for Penangites.”
All this while, federal and state government leaders were more interested in mega-projects. The Penang government did not appear that interested in improving the ferry service (apart from an announcement of a RM90m project after Pakatan Harapan came to power – though nothing came of it). Instead, it was fixated with its mega-bucks RM46bn “PTMP”, the controversial pie-in-the-sky tunnel, cross-channel cable cars and massive land reclamation.
The federal government, through government-linked company MRCB, was more keen on building the monstrous RM2.7bn Penang Sentral terminal, which was supposed to be an “integrated hub” connecting rail, bus and ferry services in Butterworth. The first phase was completed in November 2018 – but now, there is no ferry service left to integrate! This is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. What will happen to all those businesses that set up shop in Penang Sentral?
It remains to be seen how long it will take for the ferries to resume operations.
This is what happens when you have politicians and planners who are obsessed with mega-projects while neglecting the small things that make a difference in the lives of so many ordinary people.
All this is a far cry from the heyday of the ferry service when it actually subsidised the Penang port operations. In recent years, however, it has been incurring losses in the region of about RM20m annually – but this could easily be remedied with a more regulated and expanded service as consultants Halcrow had proposed.
Imagine, we could also have easily established a ferry construction industry. Think of the thousands of islands in Indonesia and the Philippines that could be connected – a ready market close to us. A wasted opportunity, really.
This is the announcement by Rapid Penang today:
PERKHIDMATAN RAPID FERRY TERGENDALA DAN DIGANTIKAN DENGAN PERKHIDMATAN BAS PERCUMAPULAU PINANG, 24 Ogos – Perkhidmatan Rapid Ferry tergendala bermula daripada 24 hingga 26 Ogos 2020 berikutan masalah teknikal pada enjin feri.
Ketua Rapid Ferry, Osman Amir berkata, penangguhan perkhidmatan feri itu disebabkan masalah teknikal pada empat buah feri yang beroperasi daripada Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda ke Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim bagi trip pergi dan balik.
“Dengan itu Rapid Ferry telah menyediakan perkhidmatan bas percuma untuk membawa penumpang dari Penang Sentral ke Terminal Weld Quay. Sepuluh bas disediakan dengan frekuensi 10 hingga 20 minit. Bagi pihak Rapid Ferry, saya ingin memohon maaf atas segala kesulitan,” jelas beliau.
Berikut adalah makluman bagi perkhidmatan bas yang disediakan : Dari Penang Sentral (Platform 11 & 12)Bas Pertama : 06.00 pagiBas Terakhir : 11.00 malamDari Terminal Weld Quay (Terminal A)Bas Pertama : 07.10 pagiBas Terakhir : 11.00 malam