KUCHING: Perahu tambang operators here are not convinced that they will enjoy a higher income once the Golden Bridge is completed.
They are more worried that the landmark RM35mil project spanning across Sarawak River may rob them of their livelihood.
Kipli Wen, a perahu tambang operator from Kampung Empila, Samarahan said they were already facing lower passenger load compared to that 10 and 20 years back.
The 85-year-old said with more people owning cars, they became less dependent on the iconic perahu tambang to get across.
“Many houses and schools are built in Petra Jaya area nowadays, so people need not cross the river to go to the city centre to work and school anymore.
“Sometimes I have to wait for an hour just to have some passengers. In the past, I only had to wait for 10 to 15 minutes.
“If the bridge is built and completed, I’m sure more people would use the bridge rather than taking our perahu tambang as they can walk across the river for free,” Kipli told The Star here yesterday when asked for his opinion on the project.
Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud launched the project on Tuesday.
Assistant Tourism Minister Datuk Talib Zulpilip said the operators would not be affected by the project as they could provide boat rides to tourists and charge them more.
He said the boat operators should emulate the commercial use of gondolas in Venice, Italy, instead of ferrying daily passengers.
Kipli said he had been rowing his perahu tambang for over 50 years and in the past there were many earning a living like him.
He said now there were about 40 operators left and due to lower passenger load, they had to do business on shift.
“The shift system was introduced about 20 years ago. Each of us only had to work for a week in a month. For the remaining weeks, we work in our farms or fish to sustain our lives.”
“I earn between RM300 and RM400 per week now. I really don’t see how the new bridge can help us earn more,” he said.
Kipli justified his doubts by saying that presently the new rate was 50 sen per trip per passenger but the authority concerned, Sarawak Rivers Board, had yet to update the signage, which still stated the old rate of 40 sen per trip per passenger.
“This often causes a lot of confusion and anger among passengers. The authority cannot even help us in a simple thing like this — how can they assist us when the bridge is completed?”
Sharing his concern, Hussin Mat, 78, also from Kampung Empila, said their income was also affected by private tourist boats and river taxis, which started operations in recent years.
“Instead of approaching us to bring them on a trip along the river, they hop onto the tourist boats and river taxis.
“We do bring tourists who wish to go for sightseeing along Sarawak River. We normally charge between RM40 and RM50 per hour for the ride but such opportunities are rare,” he said.
Hussin said he naturally felt threatened by the Golden Bridge project because the river was both his home and workplace.
“Sarawak River is my lifeline. At night, I sleep in the boat and during the day, I paddle along the river to earn a living,” he said, adding that majority of the passengers were locals.
The 400m S-shaped pedestrian bridge, measuring 3.25m in width and looming 12m above the water, starts from the State Legislative Assembly Complex in the north to the Charles Brooke Memorial near the Kuching Waterfront viewing tower in the south.
According to Sarawak Economic Development Corporation, the implementing agency, it would take at least 24 months to complete the bridge, or by the end of 2015.
A consortium, comprising PPES Works (Sarawak) Sdn Bhd and Naim Land Sdn Bhd, is the contractor of the project.