Penang ferries: Service to public, not profits, should be main criterion

The people of Penang Island and mainland Penang are suffering because of political malaise. Do those in power in Putrajaya realise how much distress is endured by every user of the Penang ferry service, everyday, not just on festive weekends? When did you last queue for an hour to board the ferry?

Yet, the privatised Penang Port Sdn Bhd proposes to further reduce a much needed public transport service that is already lamentable. The audacious and senseless proposal to reduce the four ferries operating during peak hours to three has been temporarily delayed.

But have commuters realised that the service has been slowed down (deliberately?) recently? The actual crossing is taking half an hour instead of the normal 20 minutes.

No improvements or upgrading have taken place, either to infrastructure or to the ferries themselves for the last 25 years. In fact, the old ferry terminal in Butterworth which collapsed in 1988 was never rebuilt, effectively halving the pier infrastructure.

PPSB now proposes to further reduce an already inadequate and much needed service. Where is the sense in this? If no one is using the ferry, then fine, go ahead and cut the service, but when the queues are long, what kind of idiotic provider proposes cutbacks?

A perfectly good system that has serviced the people of Penang for generations is now being eroded where service times are now about to be reduced to starting at 6.30am from the island instead of 5.40am and ending at 11pm instead of 1am.

If PPSB wants to increase the price marginally then fine, as long as it actually improves the service. A dozen ferries were operating 40 years ago and now PPSB proposes just three? Compare it to the modern metropolis of Hong Kong where its Star Ferry grows more relevant and efficient year after year.

Are we destined to be ruled by decision-makers who cannot see beyond their noses? Public transport is a service for the people, much like education and health services. Profit is not the first and only criterion.

Penang Forum steering committee
7 January 2016

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