Relocated Star Ferry 'will be left with just heritage role'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2006, 12:00am

Commuters will desert service after move to distant pier, says academic

The Star Ferry is likely to lose its role as a form of public transport and become a tourist attraction like the Peak Tram after its pier moves, an academic says.

Hung Wing-tat, associate professor of civil and structural engineering at Polytechnic University, said moving the Central pier to near the outlying islands piers would discourage use of the ferry to cross the harbour.

'The current pier in Central is convenient. It is connected to taxis, buses and minibuses, and close to major offices towers, such as Jardine House and the Prince's Building,' Professor Hung said.

'It has a big catchment area. The new pier is far away for both pedestrians and vehicles. It is not particularly close to IFC. Moving to a new pier will hit the ferry badly.'

He said the ferry was still attractive to low-income people as it was the cheapest way to cross the harbour and its present convenient location helped it meet fierce competition, particularly from the MTR Corp. It would lose that edge with the move.

Professor Hung cited a Transport Department study in 2002 that said the average person did not want to walk for more than seven minutes to catch public transport. The government has estimated it will take 10 minutes to reach the new pier.

The ferry service, which has been operating since 1888, faces serious challenges, including the move to the new pier, forced by the Central reclamation, and the looming removal of bus stops and a taxi stand from its Tsim Sha Tsui pier.

But Professor Hung said the Star Ferry would take on a role similar to that of the Peak Tram.

'It has heritage value. No one wants to see a bus, but everyone wants to see and experience a ferry ride across Victoria Harbour,' he said.

'Whether it will follow in the footstep of London's Routemaster depends on the determination of the ferry's management.'

The Routemaster - a double-decker bus with the entrance at the back - was officially withdrawn from service last December. Two heritage routes between tourists spots in London have kept the buses in action.

Star Ferry managing director Frankie Yick Chi-ming agreed it was inevitable that the Star Ferry's role would change.

'Before the Cross-Harbour Tunnel was completed in 1972 and the MTR offered cross-harbour services in 1985, the ferry was the only important transport to take people across the harbour,' he said. 'Now people have many choices. Ferries need a pier but we can't build piers everywhere; it is our restriction.'

He said the company planned to add new elements to the pier in an effort to draw people who were not catching a ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui.

'I have been thinking how to change the ferry's role,' Mr Yick said. 'With more space at the new pier, we will provide more activities. Hopefully there will be monthly and weekly activities to attract visitors.

'Level three will be a public viewing deck; visitors will be able to enjoy panoramic sea views there. We are thinking about offering space to artists, tertiary institutes and non-profit organisations to be their exhibition and performance venue.'

Meanwhile, the Transport Department said it had not decided when to move the Tsim Sha Tsui bus terminus away from the ferry pier or details of bus services from the new terminus to the pier.

The plan is to move the bus terminus to near Wing On Plaza in Tsim Sha Tsui East, while the taxi stand will move to Canton Road. The parking bays for tour coaches and shuttle buses will be moved to an area outside the Cultural Centre.