May 15 2013
It would be fair to say that Penang is not known for the efficiency or convenience of its transport, and if you want to venture out of central Georgetown, it’s not quite as easy as jumping in the nearest rickshaw. Car taxis are expensive relative to the cost of living, and unlike other Southeast Asian cities, rickshaws are very rare and exist only to ferry tourists around the centre of town at annoyingly inflated prices.
On an island where the car is king and people prefer to drive themselves, the public transport system is nowhere near as developed as it should be for a population of 1.5 million. However, the local government has taken steps to try and improve matters and, in 2007, introduced a fleet of modern, air-conditioned buses on the Rapid Penang network, which offers travellers a good alternative to taxis.
Unfortunately the sheer number of cars on the roads and the frequent jams mean that the buses are often less than rapid and leave people wondering whether the name is a cruel joke, or perhaps just hopeless optimism. Nevertheless, at the end of the day they will get you to your destination – eventually – and with their extensive number of routes and eminent affordability, you can get to most of Penang’s main tourist destinations for less than a US dollar.
There are two main hubs for the buses in Georgetown. The principal one is the bus station at Weld Quay Jetty, where almost all of the routes originate and terminate, and many services also stop at the Komtar complex, on the other side of the town centre. The free CAT (Central Area Transit) bus does a loop of Georgetown and links many of the major streets, so you shouldn’t have to walk too far from your accommodation to get onto the bus network. A list of bus routes to common destinations is at the bottom of this post, and for further details, check the route map on the Rapid Penang website.
Prices for single tickets start at 1.40 ringgit for journeys under seven kilometres, up to a maximum of four ringgit for journeys over 28 kilometres. In practice, most destinations outside Georgetown cost two to three ringgit, unless you are going further afield to places like the airport or to the Penang National Park. You can also buy a Rapid Penang Tourist Passport, allowing a week’s unlimited travel on the buses, for 20 ringgit. This is available from the main Jetty bus station or, if you arrive on the island by air, from the Rapid Penang information counter at the airport.
The vehicles are well air-conditioned and comfortable and some, including route 401E to the airport, have free WiFi. On the downside, the buses aren’t all that reliable and the frequency of services is sometimes not as generous as the published timetables would have you believe. You may find yourself waiting a long time for one to show up, which could be frustrating if you have limited time on the island. However, using the bus network is a cost-effective way of getting around, and if it’s not as rapid as you might like, at least it gives you more time to take in the sights of Penang along the way.
Useful bus routes:
10: Jetty to Botanic Gardens
101: Jetty to Teluk Bahang (for National Park, Butterfly Farm, Escape), via Batu Ferringhi (for beaches and Tropical Spice Garden)
102: Airport to Teluk Bahang (as above), via Georgetown and Batu Ferringhi (as above)
201: Jetty to Paya Terubong, via Air Itam (for Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill)
203: Jetty to Air Itam (for Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill)
204: Jetty to Penang Hill Railway Station (for Penang Hill funicular railway)
304: Jetty to Gurney Drive (for Gurney Plaza shopping centre)
401E: Jetty to Airport
This is not a complete list of services. Please consult Rapid Penang website for details of interim stops and further information.Rapid Penang Bus T: (04) 238 1212 www.rapidpg.com.my
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