Legal action 'may halt Cheung Chau ferries'
A legal challenge aimed at narrowing the gap between holiday and regular day fares on Cheung Chau ferries could halt all services between the island and Central, the Court of First Instance heard yesterday.
Counsel for the government said if a judicial review was successful, it would effectively mean the annulment of the existing operating contract held by New World First Ferry.
Stewart Wong Kai-ming SC, for the government, accepted that the judicial review instigated by Kenny Kwok Cheuk-kin, chairman of the Cheung Chau Neighbourhood Association, was not seeking to revoke the operating licence.
But if Kwok was successful it 'literally means the licence will be gone and there could be no more service'. 'That would be an ironical result for the applicant,' Wong said.
Kwok was promised in a letter from the commissioner for transport in March that the administration would narrow the difference between Monday-to-Saturday fares and Sunday and public holiday fares from 46 per cent to below 20 per cent. Kwok's counsel Hectar Pun said apart from the letter, the department reiterated the promise several times during presentations to the Legislative Council and island residents.
It was therefore totally legitimate for Kwok to expect that the price gap would be narrowed, helping the island to attract more tourists.
But when tenders for the six major island routes were renewed in March - including the Cheung Chau to Central route - fares went up and the gap stayed the same.
Kwok asked Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon yesterday to quash that decision.
Pun said the court could also consider making a declaration that the commissioner had a duty to consider Kwok's case or the court could return the matter to the commissioner for reconsideration.
But Wong said all options were likely to render the existing licence illegal and halt the service.
It was unreasonable for Kwok to view a government pledge to make an effort to reduce the fare gap as a promise that the government must honour at all costs.
'I hope no one will file a judicial review against the Observatory if it is wrong in 'promising' the weather will be sunny tomorrow,' Kwok said.
It was not a 'promise' for the government to make, as fares were determined through an open tendering exercise in which the government did not have absolute control.
'Is it reasonable that the government would trump all considerations such as keeping the regular fare down, ensuring proper use of public funding and maintaining the continuity of the ferry service over a single concern? No,' Wong said.
The court reserved its judgment.
Since July 1, it has cost this much for an adult fare to Cheung Chau, Monday to Saturday. It costs HK$18.40 on Sundays and public holidays