Slow boats

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 November, 1999, 12:00am

Outlying islands residents can look forward to more pleasant commuting now that Hongkong & Yaumati Ferry (HYF) has made a long-overdue decision to give up its services to Lantau, Cheung Chau and Peng Chau.

New World First Ferry, the new operator, is already planning to renovate the boats and piers, installing such basic amenities as better seating and drinking water. In short, things its predecessor never bothered to do during its 75 years of running ferry services.

With hindsight, HYF ought never have been given a new franchise in last year's tendering. But the Government is always slow to give the boot to even the worst public transport operators.

It took more than a decade of complaints before China Motor Bus (CMB) last year finally lost the franchise to run its dirty and dilapidated bone-shakers across Hong Kong Island. Had it been left to dithering officials, it might have taken just as long to remove HYF.

Thankfully, a combination of public protests and private enterprise speeded up the change. HYF must have realised it had little future as a ferry operator after a high-profile sit-in by disgruntled Peng Chau residents highlighted its unpopularity. In the meantime, New World, which has worked wonders in overhauling CMB's former routes, clearly saw an opportunity to do likewise with the ferries.

Its plan to make them break even within two years shows that, contrary to popular wisdom, there is still a future for such services.

Lantau may now be linked by road and rail to the rest of Hong Kong. But, especially in a more environmentally-aware era, there will always be a future for well-managed ferries to the outlying islands.

For too long, the image of a place that aspires to be one of the world's great cities was sullied by Third World-style public transport services in some areas. And the Government did all too little to rectify this.

Hong Kong deserves better, and this change is an important step towards having a forward-looking transport system in all quarters.


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