Penang plans coastal ferry transport

Scenic route: A family taking a ferry ride to the Penang island as another is seen leaving the terminal on the island. George Town, Komtar and Penang Hill are seen in the background.

GEORGE TOWN: A coastal ferry ­service with multiple terminals to shuttle people and cars from one point on the island to another may become a reality by the next decade.

This follows the willingness of the Penang Port Commission (PPC) to hand over ferry services to the state government.

Sources in the state government said the idea cropped up last year during the development of the Penang Transport Master Plan.

"The plan is to build terminals for ferries to shuttle between Butterworth, George Town, Gurney Drive, Gelugor and Bayan Mutiara near Queensbay Mall," the source said.

Another source within the Penang Transport Council said such an idea was "beautiful as it would be easy to do".

"We won't have to build roads, just terminals and then use the surrounding sea. It will be cheaper compared to building more roads on the island."

The source said the plan included high-speed passengers-only ferries and also ferries that would transport cars, motorcycles and bicycles.

"Not everyone will be willing to be only pedestrians. If they are not in a rush, they can drive into ferries from one side of the island and take a slow ride to the other side. This will play a great role in reducing island traffic."

The source added that such a ferry service was contained in Level Four of the transport master plan, which was projected to cost RM11.7bil (S$4.3 billion).

In welcoming PPC's willingness to hand over the ferry services, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had asked for permits for purchases of 30 additional ferries to go with the deal.

He said the coastal ferry service plan would be explored in greater detail if the ferry service was handed over to the state.

"To make the service viable, we must have a scale. That is why we ask to operate 30 ferries. If we have too few, then it won't be viable."

Meanwhile, Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB) chairman and chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Sidik Shaik Osman said the idea was good if there was a demand for such a mode of public transportation.

"However, under present circumstances where the fare is regulated and kept at the very minimum, I'm not sure if it will make economic sense. It will only be viable if the operator is given government assistance or subsidies, or given the opportunity to set their own fare and rates."

Mohd Sidik also noted that from Penang Port's experience, the waters around the island could be choppy at certain times of the year and safety was of paramount importance.

PPSB is the current owner and operator of Penang's ferries.