The Penang Ferry Service is the ferry service between Pengkalan Raja Tun Uda in George Town, on Penang Island and Pengkalan Sultan Abdul Halim in Butterworth on the Penang Mainland. Until the Penang Bridge was opened to the public in 1985, this was the main connection for people to go between across the channel. At its narrowest, the channel is only 3.2 kilometers across.
Updates on the Penang Ferry Service
6 May, 2015The Star reports that the state government is planning multiple ferry terminals on Penang Island following the willingness of the Penang Port Commission (PPC) to hand over ferry services to the state government. The plan is to build ferry terminals at other parts of Penang Island so that there could be ferry services between Butterworth and George Town, Gurney Drive, Gelugor and Bayan Mutiara near Queensbay Mall. The plan is to have high-speed passenger-only ferries as well as those that can also transport vehicles, as contained in the Transport Master Plan. According to the report, the Penang Chief Minister had also asked for the permit to buy another 30 ferryboats to be used in providing the additional services.
History of the Penang Ferry Service
I have come across a number of websites/blogs claiming that the Penang Ferry services began in 1920 or in the 1920s. That's not exactly correct. Vehicular ferry services began in at the end of 1925, but passenger and goods ferry services began much earlier. It was started by two Chinese brothers - the Beng Brothers - in 1894. During that time, the two present ferry jetties have not been built yet.
A Penang ferry crossing the Penang Channel (1 May, 2015)
A Penang Ferry with Komtar in the background (22 October, 2006)
The Beng Brothers used boats to transport people and goods between Fort Pier and Mitchell's Pier. Neither of these piers are still standing today. The Fort Pier, also called Kedah Pier, is located off Fort Cornwallis, beside present-day King Edward Place while Mitchell's Pier, also called Bagan Tuan Kechil Pier, is somewhere around present-day North Butterworth Container Terminal.
The Penang Harbour Board, the predecessor of Penang Port, took over the management of the ferry services in 1924, and by the end of the following year introduced services for vehicles. In the beginning, the ferry used Church Street Ghaut Wharf, which was later demolished, and replaced by the Church Street Pier, which is restored and still standing today. In the old days, the Church Street Pier only had a simple metal roof, it is nothing like what it is today.
Boarding the Penang Ferry (1 May, 2015)
Passenger deck, Penang Ferry (22 October, 2006)
In addition to the Penang Harbour Board ferry services, the Federated Malay States (F.M.S.) Railway also ran its own ferry services, exclusively for the use of train passengers. The F.M.S. Pier was built in 1901, four years before the Federated Malay States Railway Station was built. It juts out of Weld Quay, across the road from the F.M.S.R. building. At 644 feet (196 meters) in length, it is the longest pier on Weld Quay.
Most of the ferries plying the channel today were built in the mid-1970s. There are two types, one with the lower deck for vehicles and the upper deck for passengers, while the other have both decks for vehicles. They are all given names of islands. Pulau Angsa (1981), Pulau Rawa (1975), Pulau Talang Talang (1975) and Pulau Undan (1975) have an upper deck for passengers while the lower deck is for vehicles. Pulau Kapas (1981), Pulau Payar (2002), Pulau Pinang (2002) and Pulau Rimau (1980) have both the upper and lower decks for vehicles.
Ferry vehicular deck (29 January, 2009)
Ferry services no longer run 24-hours today. The first ferry from George Town leaves at 6:28 am and from Butterworth at 6:16 am. The last ferry from George Town leaves at 1:00 am and from Butterworth at 12:40 am. Depending on time of day, there is a ferry every 10-20 minutes.
You are charged only for trips from Butterworth to George Town. The fare is RM1.20 for adults and RM0.60 for children aged 5-12. School children in uniform likewise pay RM0.60 while the disabled carried a disabled-person IC ride for free.
Vehicular ramps at Pengkalan Raja Tun Uda (22 October, 2006)
Ferry or Bridge?
If you are driving to Penang, the Penang Bridge gets you in much faster regardless the time of day. During rush hours, both the bridge and the ferry will be congested, but it is usually worse with the ferry, and it connects with the commercial part of George Town. During rush hours, waiting time for vehicles to board a ferry can be over half an hour, making it not the most practical choice if you are driving in or out of Penang Island.
The fare for vehicles is also not that attractive. At RM7.70, it is 10% higher than the bridge toll. Moreover, the ferry does not accept Touch 'N Go smart cards (which further reduces bridge toll for the card users to RM5.60).
Penang, 500 Early Postcards, page 31, by Cheah Jin Seng, published by Editions Didier Millet.
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