New Kanowit-Kapit Road spells the end for express boat services

One of the express boats plying the Sibu-Kapit route berthed at the Sibu express boat terminal. - file pic

By Lian Cheng

KUCHING, Oct 12: The opening of Kanowit-Kapit Road on Oct 4, 2020 is expected to put the seven express boat operators plying along the Rajang River out of business.

Sarawak 3rd, 6th and 7th Divisions Express Boats Association deputy chairman Ting Chuo Won said that there is nothing much he and other express boat operators could do to prevent that from happening.

“Since the last few days after the road has been opened to the public, our business has been adversely affected.

“Passenger load has decreased by 80 per cent. It is just a matter of time that we are all going to close down our businesses,” Ting told DayakDaily.

Before the opening of the road, he said there were on an average between 70 to 80 passengers for each trip from Sibu to Kapit.  Now there are only between 20 to 30 passengers who are still using express boat services.

He believed that the rest of their usual passengers are now opting for land transport.

Following the road connectivity, he said the express boat operators have been left with no choice but to succumb to the fact that road transport is taking over river transport.

“Some of us are thinking of selling off our express boats. What can we do?  Express boat business is already a sunset industry.  Now it is as described – the sun is setting and we will soon be out of business,” said Ting.

Presently, there are seven companies with 14 express boats still plying along the Rajang River on daily basis.

An express boat needs three to four workers on board when it is in operation. Should these seven companies all close down inevitably, it would mean the laying off of more than 50 workers.

On Oct 4, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg led a motorcycle expedition from Sibu to Kapit to inspect the whole new stretch from Kanowit to Kapit.  Following that motorcycle expedition, the road was announced open to public use.

Prior to the opening of the road, towns and settlements along the Rajang River can only be reached by river transport where express boats were the only mode of public transport. Due to the fact, Kapit had been described as “an island”.

While the name may sound “romantic”, the sad reality was that any emergency medical case after the last express boat meant the patient had to wait until the next day when the express boat is safe to navigate again. That was why the necessity to connect Song and Kapit to Sibu by land.

It takes about three hours to travel from Sibu-Kanowit-Song-Kapit by express boat but it takes only two and a half hours to travel by the 160km Sibu-Kapit Road.

If the completion of Sibu-Kanowit Road a few years back had adversely impacted the express boat industry, the newly completed Sibu-Kapit Road may just wipe out the industry. —DayakDaily