Consumer body slams ‘incompetent’ Penang ferry operator for reducing trips

The ‘Pulau Kapas’ ferry crossing the North Channel on its way to George Town from Butterworth.

GEORGE TOWN: A consumer group here has sounded off Penang’s ferry operators for reducing services from two trips an hour to just one without much notice, causing hardship to locals and holidaymakers who enjoy the nostalgia of crossing the channel.

Consumers’ Association of Penang president Mohideen Abdul Kader said the change in frequency for the iconic ferries was “sheer incompetence” of the operators at a time when a long weekend was approaching.

“It grossly lacks foresight and planning, causing inconvenience to motorists and pedestrians taking the ferry.

“We cannot comprehend how an entire fleet of six ferries between Penang Island and Butterworth can be reduced to just one to operate without a backup.

“The ferries are important to pedestrian commuters who have no alternative choice of transport.

“What the ferry service operator did has impacted tremendously on commuters who would be late for work, appointments, or miss the express bus or train,” he said in a statement.

The Butterworth side of the ferry terminal is next to a busy train and bus terminus where most people headed to Penang and vice-versa would disembark.

Mohideen said adequate signs should be placed ahead of the ramps into the ferries to indicate average wait times so that motorists and pedestrians can make alternative travel arrangements.

He said there was barely any announcement on the service’s new schedule, except for a Facebook post which had less than 50 shares.

He also raised concerns over social distancing as the number of those waiting would rise with just one ferry operating every hour.

“The blatant violation of social distancing can be expected. To rectify the problem, the ferry operator should arrange shuttle buses to transport pedestrian ferry commuters from Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda on the island to Penang Sentral on the mainland, and vice versa.

“In the meantime, we want to know what has happened to the other five ferries. Are they being maintained according to schedule?

“The ferry service must be maintained as it is cheap and efficient. They have been Penang’s icon for the past 126 years.”

In a statement on Facebook, ferry operators Rapid Ferry said the frequency had been reduced due to “technical problems” with the ferry engines.