Discovery Bay fight to save ferry service
Discovery Bay residents are fighting to save their loss-making ferry service to Mui Wo.
Its operator wants the government to invite other bids to run the service before its licence comes up for renewal in August, saying low usage and soaring fuel costs mean it has lost HK$2 million since 2003.
Without the 20-minute service, passengers would face a roundabout bus journey via Tung Chung on Lantau's north coast that takes more than an hour.
Dozens of pupils use rush-hour sailings to get to and from school, but other weekday sailings carry few passengers. The route is only busy during weekends, says Wong Hon-kuen, director of Peng Chau Kaito Ltd, which operates the service.
'On weekdays when it's not rush hour, we only get about 10 passengers per trip on a ferry that can carry up to 130 people,' he said. 'And only very few people use it for work.'
During weekends, the ferries are packed with Discovery Bay residents like Sarah Corry, who enjoys the six-kilometre hill walk over to Mui Wo then takes the ferry home. She said residents chose to live on Lantau because they enjoy the outdoors, and said the service was important 'for the ease and convenience of inter-island travel' over the weekend.
Wong said his company had applied to the Transport Department to offer the franchise to interested operators before August 9 - when the licence is up for renewal.
However, the Transport Department said Wong's company would continue running the service beyond that date, and did not comment on its call to invite bids to run the service.
Peng Chau Kaito took on the route, its only ferry service, from Discovery Bay Transportation Services, which launched it in the early 1990s. Wong said the price of fuel had soared from HK$1.70 per litre in 2003 to HK$6.50 per litre today.
'We used to be able to break even just relying on our weekend business, but now we are losing money.'
The adult fare is HK$12 on weekdays and HK$15 during weekends. The service runs about every two hours. The combined cost of taking buses to Tung Chung and then to Mui Wo is HK$19.60 on weekdays and HK$25.30 on weekends.
Wong does not want to burden regular users with a fare rise.
Businesses in Mui Wo and south Lantau, especially restaurants, rely heavily on trade from Discovery Bay. James Tierney, co-owner of the China Bear pub in Mui Wo, said it would be a shame if the service ended. 'A large percentage of our customers are from Discovery Bay,' he said.
The signatures received by yesterday on a petition in the Uncle Russ Coffee shop in Discovery Bay to save the service