GEORGE TOWN: Penang’s ferry service, which holds deep sentimental value for people of the state, is poised for a major upgrade with the introduction of passenger catamarans and ferries dedicated for tourists.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke said during a meeting between his ministry, the Finance Ministry and Prasarana recently, it was decided that the company should continue with its upgrade plans for the ferry services starting from next year.
It is expected to see results in a year or two.
"One of the plans is to introduce catamaran boats or water taxis. As for the exiting ferries, they will be maintained but upgraded into tourist ferries. We may retain two or three sets from the existing ferries for vehicles.
"We have yet to finalise the details but the plans and direction forward are already there. We have asked Prasarana to proceed," he said after the launch of the unlimited travel Mutiara pass for Rapid Penang and Rapid Ferry at the Rapid Penang terminal in Weld Quay.
Present were Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow as well as Prasarana Malaysa Bhd Group president and chief executive officer Datuk Mohammed Hazlan Mohamed Hussain.
Loke said the government had allocated RM90 million for the upgrading project but the disbursement of funds was postponed pending the settlement of legal issues between the current and previous operator.
Currently, there are six ferries plying the Butterworth-George Town route daily.
Meanwhile, Chow welcomed the ministry’s proposal to transform the ferries into tourist ferries.
“We only ask that this doesn’t compromise the existing ferry services for passengers,” he said.
He pointed out that the state used to have water tours by small boats that take tourists around to sites like the Penang Bridge and Pulau Jerejak back in the 1980s.
“If it is self-sustaining financially with adequate numbers, it will be an attractive new tourism product for Penang,” he added.
The Mutiara Pass is effective on Sept 1, while the sale of the passes began on Aug 20.
Rapid Penang, which receives a total of 16 million passengers annually and an average of about 75,000 passengers daily based on statistics until July this year, operates with 404 buses plying a total of 71 routes.
Rapid Ferry in turn, which operates through six ferries stationed at two jetties, receives a total of 865,559 passengers and 762,498 vehicles every year, and until July this year, recorded a daily average of 3,696 passengers and 3,112 vehicles.