GEORGE TOWN: Local residents who are grappling with the high cost of living will get some relief as a free bus service between the city on the island and Bukit Mertajam on the mainland will begin Jan 1. T

he service, provided by the state government to link those travelling from the Bukit Mertajam bus terminal to Komtar and vice versa, is expected to play a crucial role for the needy other than boosting public transport usage.

Penang infrastructure and transport committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the free rides under this service otherwise known as the Congestion Alleviation Transport (CAT) Bridge, was an effort by the state government to make cross-strait commuting a breeze.

“Being able to commute such a distance for free will be of great benefit for the lower income groups,” he added.

The first bus trip from the island and Bukit Mertajam will both depart at 6am on weekdays with a frequency of 30 minutes until 9.30am, before stopping.

The service will then resume at 4.50pm at the same frequency with the last bus leaving at 7pm from Bukit Mertajam and 7.25pm from Komtar.

On weekends, the frequency tapers to hourly trips.

The route of the free shuttle starts from the Komtar bus terminal, crossing the Penang Bridge via the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway. Along the way, it will make stops at the Mydin Bukit Mertajam in Jalan Baru; Jalan Permatang Batu; Jalan Perda Selatan in Bandar Perda; Jalan Permatang Rawa, before ending at the Bukit Mertajam bus terminal.

Depending on traffic, the entire journey is expected to take an hour and 15 minutes.

A typical ehailing ride from Bukit Mertajam to Komtar, a journey of around 27km, costs RM52 to RM72.

Zairil said the target market was for those in the B40 group who had to commute across the Penang Bridge for work daily.

“There are also people from the mainland who need to go to Penang Hospital for medical treatment,” he said, adding that there would be 25 free trips per day.

Zairil also announced that the state’s Mutiara Pass would be continued in 2023, whereby users can enjoy unlimited travel on Rapid Penang buses.

Even the high-speed ferry ride between Butterworth and here will continue to be free for Malaysians until June 30 next year.

Sally Khor, 35, who is diagnosed with congenital kidney failure, said the free CAT Bridge service would ease her burden.

Khor, who is single, said she depended on the monthly aid from the Social Welfare Department to survive.

“Although I go for haemodialysis treatment at a not-for-profit dialysis centre in Bukit Mertajam, I occasionally need to go to Penang Hospital.

“It costs me RM240 just to get to Penang Hospital and get home after treatment every month, when the money could be used for supplements to keep me healthy,” said Khor, who has a part-time job.

Details on CAT Bridge can be found at (under Rapid Penang).