GEORGE TOWN, Nov 29 — Plans being considered to replace the island’s iconic and aging ferry service with catamaran vessels could undermine Penang’s tourism industry.
The plans have not gone down well with industry players and non-governmental organisations, which say the ferry service, a hallmark of the island since the 1920s, should be retained.
They see the ferry service as an identity of an historical era gone by and a tourist attraction.
Consumers Association of Penang education officer N.V. Subbarow said the ferry service should be maintained and upgraded.
“The number of trips between the island and mainland should also be increased to attract more motorists and passengers to use them,” he said.
“The location of the ferry terminal at Weld Quay, which is within the Unesco Heritage Site, is not only strategic but also easily accessible to motorists as well as pedestrians.
“We can understand PPSB (Penang Port Sdn Bhd) is looking at profitability of the services but it must also look into how to make the ferry service more efficient, exciting and attractive.”
Echoing his sentiments, Malaysian Nature Society (Penang Chapter) senior adviser D. Kanda Kumar said the ferry service should be maintained for coming generations.
“It is one of the legacies from the British era and it serves as a reminder to all generations of the rich history of the island and country,” he said.
“The authorities should look for ways to make the service more attractive for those who want to ride in the ferries.”
Kanda Kumar urged the public to make greater use of the service as it would ease the traffic on the Penang bridges, especially the first bridge.
Penang Tourism Malaysia director Mazlan Araju said the ferry service was unique in Malaysia.
“It should be maintained and improved as it is an identity of Penang,” he said.
“Many tourism brochures and postcards feature the ferry as a symbol for the state.
“Catamaran vessels should be welcomed as they will offer an additional mode of transport between the island and the mainland, but not to replace the ferries.”
Malaysian Association of Hotels (Penang Chapter) chairman Khoo Boo Lim supported the effort to maintain the ferry service.
“PPSB has been running at a loss for many years, so why not look into privatising the service, as it would generate fresh ideas and make the venture financially sustainable,” he said.
At a recent Penang State Assembly sitting, works, utilities and transport committee chairman Lim Hock Seng said PPSB was considering a proposal to replace the ferries with catamaran vessels.
Lim said the company was carrying out feasibility studies and no decision had been made yet to replace the ferries.