Use port profits to fund Penang ferry, says user group

Only one of Penang’s six iconic ferry ships is left in service across the Channel between George Town and Butterworth.

PETALING JAYA: In a growing outcry over Penang ferry services being left crippled, a transport users group has called for profits from Penang port operations to be used to fund the service.

Only one of Penang’s six iconic ferries remains in service across the channel because of maintenance problems, according to the Consumers’ Association of Penang.

The Penang Public Transport Users Association said profit sharing by conglomerate MMC Corporation should be made mandatory by the Penang Port Commission, which has responsibility for Penang port.

The group said MMC had reported a 59.8% surge in net profits to RM119.72 million for the fourth quarter of 2018 after consolidating the results of its subsidiary, Penang Port Sdn Bhd, the concessionaire for port operations.

“Shouldn’t the Penang Port Commission make profit sharing of MMC Corp’s earnings from Penang Port Sdn Bhd mandatory to help fund and expand the century old Penang Ferry Service?” it said.

Responsibility for Penang ferry services have changed hands between the conglomerate MMC Corporation, Penang Port Sdn Bhd, and Prasarana, the federal government’s public transport operator which owns Rapid bus and light rail lines.

MMC Corporation owns Penang Port Sdn Bhd and also runs operations at Tanjung Pelepas and Johor ports; Northport, Selangor; and Tanjung Bruas, Melaka. It also owns Kontena Nasional, the logistics and haulier company.

Three years ago, Prasarana took over from MMC and operated the service under Rapid Ferry.

On Wednesday Prasarana said it would be handing back ferry operations to the port commission, after Rapid Ferry said it would be reducing services between George Town and Butterworth from two trips an hour to one due to technical problems with its engines.

The transport users’ group said Rapid Ferry’s changed schedule meant a trip across the Penang Channel would now take more than one and a half hours on average.

The group said the Penang ferry is a vital link for many public transport users. It called for a schedule to be set for the replacement of old and unreliable vessels, a more frequent shuttle service to be set up, and better connections provided between bus hubs across the island and Seberang Perai.