GEORGE TOWN, Aug 23 — The Transport Ministry has instructed Prasarana Malaysian Berhad to upgrade Penang ferries and introduce passenger catamarans for speedier service connecting the island and the mainland.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke said his ministry had instructed Prasarana to implement these upgrade plans for the ferry services starting from next year.
“I had a meeting with Prasarana and the Finance Ministry, and have asked Prasarana to implement our plans to upgrade the ferry services and introduce catamarans as water taxies,” he told a press conference after launching of Pas Mutiara for Rapid Penang.
He said he had mentioned in Parliament previously that the federal government had allocated RM90 million for the upgrading of the Penang ferry services, now under Rapid Ferry.
“This amount is yet to be channelled to Prasarana as there were a few legal issues that needed to be resolved but I have told Prasarana to go ahead with the implementation of the upgrade first,” he said.
He said under the upgrading plans, the existing ferries will be maintained and converted into tourist ferries.
“I know the Penang ferry has nostalgic connotations for Penang so we will not get rid of it, instead, we will turn it into tourist ferries to bring tourists around,” he said.
He said maybe one or two ferries will continue to be used to ferry vehicles across the channel while catamarans will be ferrying passengers.
He said these plans will also depend on the state government on how to implement the tourist ferries and the water taxies including the routes.
“These upgrade plans could take maybe one or two years to be implemented and we can see an improved ferry service then,” he said.
Currently, there are six ferries plying the Butterworth-George Town route daily.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow welcomed the ministry’s proposal to turn the ferries into tourist ferries.
“We only ask that this doesn’t compromise the existing ferry services for passengers,” he said.
He said Penang used to have water tours by small boats that take tourists around to sites like 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 said.