Saturday, January 22

Road connectivity deals mortal blow to express boat business

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The lone express boat plying between Sibu and Kapit berthed at the Kapit jetty waiting for passengers.

KAPIT (Nov 6): Once the express boats which zipped through the waters of the mighty Rajang like wingless fuselage of planes from Sibu to here were the only means of mass transport for the people here.

But now these erstwhile kings of river transport have been reduced to a mere alternative means of transport with the opening of the road linking Kapit-to Sibu through Song and Kanowit in Oct 2019.

The convenience of driving out of town has almost consigned the 156-kilometer river trip from here to Sibu route to history.

The Kapit water front and wharf which used to be a hive of activities from dawn to dusk with boats arriving and leaving is now a forlorn sight as there is only express boat coming in from Sibu and making a return trip.

The boat leaves the Sibu Express Terminal at 8 am to here Kapit to and departs for Sibu at 10.30am daily – a sharp contrast to the 18 trips per day from 5.45am till 2.30pm from Sibu to Kapit and 6.15am to 3.15pm from Kapit to Sibu before the road was built..

Even before road transport broke the express boats monopoly of mass transport here, the operators were dealt a mortal blow by the Covid-19 pandemic which restricted the movement of the people travelling in the boats.

Struck by this double whammy, almost all the express boat operators closed their business.

The operator of Bahagia Express Boat Bhd, Ling Hang Ping, said he berthed his vessels at the town jetty as it no longer to viable to carry on operating.

“Per round trip Sibu-Kapit-Sibu the fuel about RM1,800, then the salary of the workers. There were few passengers and the ticket prices are fixed by Sarawak Rivers’ Board at only RM25, RM30 and RM35. Each boat is only allowed 50 per cent load. There was no way to cover the expenses. It is better to halt the operation to cut loss,” he lamented.

Recently a boat owner who only wished to be known as Kong decided to resume operation hoping there would be people wishing to travel by boat to Sibu.

After a week his optimism seemed to be misplaced as very few people opted for the river route to go to Sibu but he still believes the passengers will return as travelling by boat is comparatively cheaper and more comfortable than a bus trip.