Catamarans may replace Penang ferries

26 Jun 2018 / 19:11 H.

GEORGE TOWN: Penang will witness a revolutionary change in its public transport mode soon with the proposal by Rapid Ferry Sdn Bhd to replace the ageing fleet of cross-channel ferries with modern twin-hull hi-speed catamarans and the possibility of providing dedicated lanes for the Rapid Penang stage buses to ply certain areas of the state.
It is all part of an agenda to drive forward an efficient public transport system to counter the worsening traffic congestion, said Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow here.
Speaking in an interview, Chow confirmed that he has received a proposal from the Rapid Ferry Sdn Bhd officers to substitute the ferries with catamarans during a brief courtesy call by them recently.
Some of the present ferries can be retained to carry passengers, or to offer cruises for tourism whereas the catamarans can be deployed to strictly ferry automobiles.
Rapid Ferry is a newly formed subsidiary under the Prasarana Malaysia Berhad, a wholly owned company under the Finance Ministry Incorporated, who owns, manages and operates a multi-model system of public mobility services.
They formally took over last May — the loss — making ferry operations from the Penang Port Sdn Bhd, who has provided for such services since 1894 when it was a port authority under the colonial era.
Chow said that the state was supportive of any measure to alleviate traffic congestion.
An efficient ferry service can complement the existing two cross-channel bridges which connect George Town and Bayan Lepas on the island to Seberang Jaya and Batu Kawan on the mainland respectively.
The ferry which is the third connector — links Weld Quay with Butterworth on the mainland.
Elaborating on the present measures to address the congestion before approval and construction can begin on the RM46 billion Penang Transport Masterplan where key components are a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system and an ambitious undersea tunnel, Chow said that the bus lanes and catamarans and most importantly, some sides need to make sacrifices.
For example, he cited the uproar that the motorists may express if they have to sacrifice one lane just to public buses or cyclists, as the roads here are narrow.
Another proposal was to bar vehicles from certain stretches of George Town; such as the Campbell Street which was converted into a pedestrian walkway but it cannot be enforced as traders complained of loss business.
But Chow said that it may eventually happened as the ratepayers here need to understand that sacrifices must be made to accommodate the rising number of vehicles on the roads.
"The only viable solution is an efficient public transport system, which can only come in time through the masterplan."
On another proposal to restore a duty free port status to Penang, Chow said that there are many forms of duty free status, and it needs to be studied closely to identify if it was suitable for the state in the present age of globalisation.
When contacted, Rapid Ferry division head Muhammad Yazurin Sallij Muhammad Yasin said that the proposal was not confirmed due to a change in government.
"We need feedback from the new government on this matter so it remains a proposal. Ours is different from the model mooted by the Penang Port before we took over. But it is premature to disclose anything."
The ferry operates like a shuttle service within the Penang Channel from 6am until midnight with a frequency of every 30-minutes depending on the load factor.
There are presently six ferries in the fleet, and the present models which first introduced into service in the 1970s.
Penang Port 's acting chief executive officer Sasedharan Vasudevan said that the proposal can be supported, as the ferry service needs to be innovated to bring back efficiency and eventually profitability to its operations.

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