May 21, 2008

Penang ferry service must not be scrapped

The Penang ferry service which has been plying the sea from the mainland to the island for more than 50 years is an iconic feature in the Penang tourism industry.
Thus it is indeed sad to read in The Star (21st May 08) that there are plans from the Federal government to scrap the service with the main reason being that it is making losses.
The Penang state government, realizing the importance of the ferry service to its tourism industry, has vowed not to scrap the service.
State Transportation Committee chairman, Lim Hock Seng has identified the reasons of the losses which are mainly due to higher fuel price, low passenger and traffic volume.
There are plans to upgrade the ferry service and introduce catamarans to complement the existing services. Plans are also aloof to use speed boats for cost efficiency.
The plans to use catamarans or speed boats do not seem to be a good and effective idea simply because it is difficult to increase the passenger volume.
It will be more effective to increase the passenger volume by maximizing the usage of the six ferries available and also by increasing the frequency of services.
In fact if budget permits, these old ferries, with a majority of them still in service after more than 30 years should be discarded in exchange for new ones with modern designs which can be a crowd puller as well.
The ferry terminals on both sides certainly need a major revamp and a new coat of paint. At present, both the terminals looked old and dirty. Certainly not a crowd puller.
With a new look and new ferries and like a new packaging of a product, the ferry service can be reintroduced as a new service to bring back the volume in traffic.
Penang Island, with its beautiful beaches, is known as the Pearl of The Orient.
Thus, to travel by ferry from the mainland to the island can be both exhilarating and enjoyable for the passengers.
However, the current travel time of less than 30 minutes is too short for the passengers to enjoy the trip, especially the tourists.
It is therefore worth considering operating two routes to cater for different groups. The first route(see attach map as route 1) is the current one which caters for the locals who are working in the island.
The second route( attach map as route 2) will be from the mainland to a tourist destination like Batu Ferringhi, which takes more than 30 minutes travel time, thus allowing the tourists, both local and foreign to enjoy the trip.
As Penang Island is a well known tourist destination, this route can be a money spinner.
What the State government needs to do now is to invest and revamp the operating structure similar to a private corporation.
Like any businesses, it must focus on bringing in the customers through marketing and promotional plans.
I sincerely hope the Federal Government can assist in providing the necessary funds to bring back the glorious days of the Penang ferry service, I mean with a brand new service.

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