GEORGE TOWN, July 8 – Penang’s brand new fleet of four ferries, which cost RM80 million, will provide free rides for a month when they are introduced on August 7, according to Transport Minister Anthony Loke. The fares for the ferries will be determined later but Loke assured the public that they will be affordable and not burdensome. Under the previous classic ferries, passengers had to pay RM1.20, while motorcycles were charged RM2. Loke revealed that the Dutch-engineered ferries have a capacity to carry 150 passengers and 50 motorcycles at any given time, with a crossing time of only 10 minutes.

The theoretical maximum capacity of the ferries is 250 people when accounting for motorcyclists and their pillion riders.”The ferry will complete a larger public transport ecosystem, connecting those getting off at Butterworth from buses and trains to George Town,” Loke said during a press briefing on the new Teluk Bahang ferry. The four ferries, constructed at a shipyard in Vietnam, were purchased by the government and private operator Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB) at a cost of RM80 million. Loke, along with other ministers and state officials, experienced the new ferries firsthand during the event.

The ferries proved to be highly maneuverable, capable of changing directions in mere seconds. They are also able to thrust sideways like large cruise ships and have two diesel-powered engines on the bow and stern, allowing them to dock in either direction. V Sasedharan, the CEO of PPSB, expects the number of passengers to exceed 2.4 million per year once the ferries are introduced. He anticipates that at least 3,000 people will use the new ferries daily, with 95% of users being regular commuters traveling to work.

The retirement of the old car and pedestrian-mix ferries, which were over 40 years old, took place in 2021 due to high maintenance costs. Fast boats, similar to those used in Langkawi, now transport pedestrians across the channel. However, one of the old ferries remains in service exclusively for carrying motorcycles. The new ferries were built by Damen Shipyards Gorinchem B.V. of the Netherlands, which was chosen out of 36 companies that participated in the open tender process, according to port regulators.

The new ferries have speeds ranging from 12 to 15 knots (22-27km/h), compared to the old ferries’ maximum speeds of seven to eight knots. In a request for proposal exercise, the Penang Port Commission leased five of the old seven ferries to private companies. One of the vessels will serve as a floating museum, two will be transformed into restaurants, and the other two will be used for pleasure cruises. An additional vessel was given to the Penang government, while one remains in service solely for transporting two-wheelers across the channel until 2022.

Pocket News