Despite voices to the contrary, it does look like it’s the end of the road for the iconic Penang ferry. On the night of December 31, the long-running ferry service will make its final run, ending its more than century-long history, The Star reports.

On January 1, Penang Port (PPSB) will take over the operations of the service and begin utilising its new water buses, which will come in the form of two fast boats. As reported previously, they will only carry passengers, meaning that cars travelling in and out of Penang will no longer be able to count on the alternative option of making the crossing by water.

“The two fast boats are here, and unless there is a new directive, we will stick to the plan of using the fast boats from January 1 to temporarily ferry passengers,” said PPSB CEO Sasedharan Vasudevan. He added that one of the existing ferries would still be in service, but used only to transport two-wheelers (motorcycles and bicycles) until it is replaced by new vehicle transporters.

Sasedaran said that the two ferry terminals will be revamped for to cater for the docking of the water buses and vehicle transporters. The upgrades are expected to take 12 to 18 months, and the total cost of the refurbishment as well as the acquisition of the new vessels is expected to cost around RM64 million, he said.

Once the refurbishment is completed, the channel crossing service will have three water buses for passengers and two vehicle transporters for two-wheelers. The latter will completely replace the old ferries, likely by the third quarter of 2021.

Sasedaran said that the new boats, which can take 200 passengers per trip, will shorten the travel time substantially. Both it and the new vehicle transporter, which can handle 100 motorcycles and bicycles, will be able to make the crossing faster than the old ferry.

The latest update follows on a week of uncertainty over the old ferries’ future existence. On December 15, it was revealed that the current Rapid Ferry fleet would be retired from service at the end of the year, which prompted calls from various parties to maintain their use.

Finance minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz then waded in by saying in Parliament that the ferry service would continue. “The government will impose a condition on Penang Port to carry on the iconic and heritage ferry service,” he said, explaining that this condition would be imposed in relation to the RM15 million out of the RM30 million that has been approved for PPSB to take over the ferry service from Prasarana.

It remains to be seen if the old ferries have a future. Difficulties in keeping the ageing fleet running and service disruptions prompted the decision to retire them from service, and it would take more than just money to keep them going, because replacement parts are getting harder to source.