By Lian Cheng
KUCHING, Oct 14: Transportation Assistant Minister Datuk Dr Jerip Susil believes that it is not the end for express boat operators now that Sibu and Kapit are connected physically with a road.
He believes that express boat services are still relevant as there are many schools and longhouses which have yet to be linked by spur routes along the Rajang River.
He opined express boat operators should not use the newly completed Kanowit-Kapit road as an excuse to shut down operations but rather, they should revamp their services to maintain their relevance.
“We have done analysis and studies on riverine transport, taking into consideration the ongoing road network construction. Our studies show that settlements along the Rajang River and the Baram River need riverine transport.
“Riverine transport is still essential for the transportation of goods and passengers,” Dr Jerip told DayakDaily.
In the face of competition and survival, the Mambong assemblyman urged express boat operators to rethink and revamp the whole riverine transport system, including refurbishing their vessels.
“Their vessels need to be modernised in such a way that they provide convenience, comfort and safe travel.
“On our part, we are looking into modernising the express (boat) terminals. This, coupled with the private sector’s effort of modernising their vessels, we believe, will ensure the continuity of the express boat industry in the face of the impact of the provision of road connectivity,” said Dr Jerip.
He said the survival of the express boat industry depends on the operators’ willingness to modernise the industry to stay relevant and competitive as an alternative to other means of transportation.
“Apart from the fact that many schools and longhouse settlements are still not connected with spur roads (sic) which link to the main road, express boats will continue to be the choice of those who cannot afford cars.
“It will take quite some time before bus companies operate on this route. Express boat operators must make use of this opportunity to revamp their businesses to increase their competitiveness.”
Sarawak 3rd, 6th and 7th Divisions Express Boats Association deputy chairman Ting Chuo Won had lamented that the completion of the Kanowit-Kapit road will eventually put express boat operators out of business.
He said since the road was opened to the public on Oct 4, 2020, their business has been adversely affected with passenger loads dropping by 80 per cent.
Presently, there are seven companies with 14 express boats still plying the Rajang River on a daily basis.
It takes about three hours to travel between Sibu to Kapit via express boat but only two-and-a-half hours if traveling on the newly completed 160km-road connecting the two towns. — DayakDaily