Star Ferry fare-rise bid wins support

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 September, 2008, 12:00am

Transport committee backs troubled firm

The Transport Advisory Committee has backed an application from the Star Ferry to raise fares on two of its most popular routes between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui and Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai.

A source close to the committee said the recommendation would be submitted soon to the Executive Council, which would be advised to accept an increase 'close' to Star Ferry's demand, because it was convinced the company was in financial trouble.

In February, Star Ferry asked the government for permission to raise fares on the two routes by 30 HK cents on weekdays and 80 HK cents at weekends and holidays. The current upper-deck fare is HK$2.20 and the lower-deck fare is HK$1.70.

The proposal to split fares between holidays and regular days was also approved because committee members saw this as a way of avoiding penalising people who used the ferry as a regular form of transport.

'The figures told us 30 per cent of the patronage on the two routes are tourists, most of the rest of the passengers should be the local workforce who take ferries to work on a daily basis. We want to maintain the option of cheap transportation for them,' the source said.

The recommendation by the committee came one day after the government approved an application that would allow an increase of up to 8.5 per cent on short and middle-haul urban taxi trips, but a discount of 20 per cent on long trips costing HK$300.

Lawmaker Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, who used to be the chairman of the Legislative Council's transport panel, said he was disappointed that the government had not worked more closely with the company to expand its source of income.

'We understand Star Ferry is in financial difficulties, but we have also suggested a lot of remedies, including letting the piers' upper decks for rent, opening up space for advertising income and developing more tourist packages with attractions like Ocean Park and Disneyland. I don't know what has actually been done.'

In April, the company's general manager Johnny Leung Tak-hing said government red tape had sometimes thwarted its attempts to increase non-fare revenue. He said an application to install an ATM - which would have brought in HK$15,000 rental a month - required the approval of 13 departments.

Mr Leung said the company's deficit last year was HK$5.8 million and it would lose HK$5.5 million this year even if the application to raise fares was approved.

Meanwhile, complaints about public transport services rose by 17.7 per cent in the second quarter, to 3,924 over, the same period last year. Taxis topped the list, with 2,017 complaints during the three months to the end of June. Most of the complaints were about the conduct of drivers, including refusals to accept a fare, not completing the journey and taking long detours.