Water taxis offer options and can include existing transport operators
The discussion over the concept of water taxis is an encouraging sign the Hong Kong community is reconnecting with the water, our fabulous 1,000 kilometres of mostly natural shorelines and many islands.
Water taxis have always existed in Hong Kong, and many are operating today under different names.
Unregulated walla-wallas can be hailed or called almost anywhere for trips to beaches and vessels, around typhoon shelters, to take late-night revellers home to Lamma from Aberdeen, or to go fishing under the Island Eastern Corridor.
In Aberdeen, Stanley, Shau Kei Wan, Sai Kung and other places, larger craft can be chartered on the spot to go fishing on open water. Launches with powerful engines for 10-15 people can be seen shuttling crew and visitors between shore and vessels on Victoria Harbour. You can charter these by phone for one hour minimum. Many are now employed for construction projects around the harbour.
Kaido - ferry services without a fixed schedule and multiple stops - are operating as a cross between taxi and minibus from various piers. Why are water taxis different from the existing services?
We have yet to see the proposals, but there must be: regulation of the quality of vessels and captains; the right to wait at public piers for passengers; and the right to carry fare-paying passengers.
Hopefully, owners of existing launches and walla-wallas will be allowed to offer taxi services in addition to their existing business. The regulation process should be simple and allow vessels to pick up and drop off passengers at any public pier or landing steps, unless closed for repairs, emergencies or events.
Will water taxis be viable? A growing number of activity nodes will populate the waterfront. West Kowloon, Central, Wan Chai, Kai Tak, Kwun Tong, To Kwa Wan, North Point, Lei Yue Mun and Quarry Bay will compete with Tsim Sha Tsui and Soho East (Lei King Wan) for visitors.
For some shore-to-shore trips, it will be faster than walking back and forth to MTR stations or making transfers.
Water taxis will complement ferries and remain the only option for crew and visitors of freighters, yachts and cruise ships moored midstream.
Water taxi services will never equal mass public transport or road taxis, but they are a fun way to enjoy the harbour for some, and an essential mode of transport for others.
Paul Zimmerman, chief executive, Designing Hong Kong