Not just the ferries; hand over Penang Bridge, Penang port, RapidPenang to state government

Sorry, only three ferries in service (July 2014)!

This was the sign at the Butterworth ferry service after 3.00pm on a weekday, last year. Most of the time, only one to four ferries are in service. At nights, even during school holidays and weekends, only one ferry after 10.00pm!

Last year, I blogged about the ferry service, complaining about the delays and the slashing of the number of ferries. I also tweeted a lot about the poor service.

Now, the federal government has asked the Penang state government to submit a detailed proposal before it hands over the recently privatised ferry service to the Penang state government.

The ferry service is operated under Penang Port Sdn Bhd, which was privatised by the federal government to Sea Terminal Sdn Bhd, a firm controlled by tycoon Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, for a paltry RM170m. Imagine that!

Penang Port Sdn Bhd also controls the rest of Penang port.

Penang port should never have been privatised to Sea Terminal in 2014, especially when the state government had expressed an interest in taking over its operations.

Now that the federal government seems open to the idea of taking the ferry service back from Sea Terminal and handing it over to the state government to manage, Putrajaya should not stop there. It should also give the port operations to the state government to manage.

There is no reason to keep the potentially profitable port operations under Sea Terminal while the loss-making ferry service is handed back to the Penang state government. Don’t ‘cherry-pick’ what is profitable for the private sector and pass the unprofitable parts back to the state.

Not only that, the federal government should hand over the first Penang Bridge back to the state. Come on, you guys have earned much more from the bridge tolls than what it actually cost plus all maintenance work carried out so far.

If we add the bridge cost (reportedly RM800m – but privatised for RM550m?), the expansion cost to three lanes in 2009 (RM586m), the replacement of 117 cables on the mainstay (say, over RM100m) and regular maintenance costs, how much would we get? That depends on how much the bridge is billed for annual and routine maintenance work.

By now, the tolls collected since the bridge was opened in 1985 are probably in excess of what has been spent on the bridge – or should I say, what should have been spent. In 2009, Samy Vellu revealed that the Penang Bridge had raked in RM1.7bn so far (probably from 1993 to 2009). What would the figure be by now and where has all that money gone? Extrapolating from that, I would think total toll collected would be in the region of RM2.5bn.

(Some background: The bridge was apparently privatised in 1993 for just RM550m in return for a 25-year lease. Someone told me that when the Penang state government had expressed interest in taking over the bridge back then, they were allegedly quoted a much higher price, perhaps closer to RM1.0bn – is this true?)

And while you are at it, give the RapidPenang bus service back to Penang. More background here: not long before 2008, following a sustained civil society campaign calling for improvements to the privatised ‘cowboy’ mini-bus service, the then BN administration in Penang said it wanted to set up a state bus corporation. This would have involved buying lots of new buses. But when Putrajaya got wind of it, it quickly set up RapidPenang under the federal government – and the contract for new buses reportedly went to the well connected Scomi back then.

The ultimate goal today should be the creation of a Sustainable Transport Commission/Authority for Penang. If the state has all transport options under its control, then it will be able to use the profits from the Penang Bridge, parking fees and fines in the state to subsidise more sustainable transport options such as buses, light rail, trams and bicycle lanes.

Such a state-run Commission would also be line with the global trend of decentralisation so that we don’t have the ridiculous situation of someone in Putrajaya deciding whether or not to approve a new bus route in say, Bukit Mertajam.

That said, the ferry service has great potential as a major transport option seeing as most of the state is only a few kilometres away from the coast at most. There is no reason why more ferry terminals cannot be built all across the island and the mainland.

For example, a Butterworth to Tanjong Bungah ferry service would eliminate the need for many to use the bridge and choke up Green Lane and Tanjung Tokong. Or what about a leisurely George Town to Batu Ferringhi ferry ride?

Now that the MPSP on the mainland is coming up with extensive new bicycle routes, these bicycle lanes should also be connected to the ferries so that people have a cycling option from Butterworth to George Town and beyond.

It just needs more creative thinking to tap the full potential of the sea transport (as a transport mode to bypass the choked roads) and to integrate that with other public transport options.

Please help to support this blog if you can.

Read the commenting guidlelines for this blog.
Notify of

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
gk ong

Plutocrats always do their best to select the most expensive options, or at least to inflate public costs for existing options. They undermine competing areas, and even try to transfer their advantages by stealth to favoured areas, e.g. free port status and ferry. Regardless of their various masks, their real religion is vast, virtual wealth which they imagine will protect them. Each day that they can distract you from critical issues – through the use of trivia and storms in teacups – means more wealth. To them, people – whether citizens or migrants – are just “human resources”, consumers, debt… Read more »


The bridge was funded by the federal govt and so are the highway and the port. They are not properties of Penang but the Federal govt. Its up to the Federal govt whether to sell of these asset back to the Penang govt but I really don`t trust the CAT govt into managing these asset. They could be hijacked just like what happen to our precious land that have been used to contra for something that we have yet to see like the tunnel. 110 acres have been contra off and the contractors are already laughing to the bank without… Read more »


…and don’t forget, hand over PUTRAJAYA too.

Phua Kai Lit

Plus all the stolen millions and billions shifted to foreign countries and into Swiss bank accounts.


Dream on

Phua Kai Lit

Meanwhile, back in 1Malaysia —- “It’s not my fault”.

It is the fault of the Ketuanan Melayu hero Tun Dr M, it is the fault of the Chinese (“Chinese tsunami”), it is the fault of Anwar Ibrahim, it is the fault of Bank Negara …..

Phua Kai Lit (another pinko-Commie Social Democrat sycophant for Chinese chauvinist DAP and Anwar Ibrahim and family-owned PKR) 🙂


You are right, from now on we should demand returning all formerly privatized state asset return to Penang state government. Make this an agenda, resolution, for the next general election. Let the rakyat know such kind of giving away profitable asset to crony should stop. 1 Malaysia Tak boleh.


The CAT must be very greedy so much so that (it) has bitten most of Penang`s hill. As I drive over to Butterworth, I could see large botak patches and as I drive back its even worse.


Marketing 101 from LKW university : paint a ferry with Minions to attract usage and gain more revenues, inside ferry lease one corner to McDonald’s offering minions toys ???

gk ong

The ferries and the waiting platform could easily generate advertising revenue with product placements by commercial firms.


My mentor Madam Kee Paik Chin (may be related to SP Lee) may offer marketing strategies to rejuvenate ferries should she put aside her differences with CAT.


Everyone except UMNO/BN and cronies think these are good ideas – which means that its never going to happen..