From January 1, 2021, cars travelling in and out of Penang will no longer be able to count on the alternative option of making the crossing by ferry. The Penang ferry is sailing into history, with all the remaining vessels in the current Rapid Ferry fleet set to be retired from service at the start of next year.

While public transportation across the channel will continue with the adoption of water bus crafts, these will only carry passengers, The Star reports. As such, four-wheeled vehicles will have to utilise the two bridges that link the island to the peninsular for their travel.

The retirement of the aging ferry fleet coincides with Penang Port (PPSB) taking over operations of the shuttle service from Prasarana. This will bring the service back into the hands of PPSB, which previously ran the business before transferring it to Prasarana in 2017.

The new water bus replacements will enter service within the next 10 to 12 months, said PPSB CEO Sasedharan Vasudevan. He said the company will run three passenger-only water buses in the updated service, which will also see the current terminal being refurbished. He added that PPSB will also have two vehicular ferries, or roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) vessels, but these will only carry motorcycles.

On the omission of transporting four-wheeled vehicles, Sasedharan said that the priority of the service would be to transport pedestrians. “Transport minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong recently said in Parliament that only 200,000 vehicles used the ferry services, while 1.2 million were pedestrians. Our top priority are commuters who use the ferries to get to work daily,” he explained.

The current ferry fleet is being retired because they are becoming difficult to keep in service, and disruptions are becoming a regular occurrence. Sasedharan said most of the vessels were more than 40 years old and not really seaworthy. “The present fleet of ferries are ageing and it’s difficult to find replacement spare parts,” he said.