Court overrules ferry fees complaint
Chris Ip and Austin Chiu
An attempt to close the gap between holiday and regular day fares on Cheung Chau ferries floundered in the Court of First Instance yesterday. However, the applicant - a candidate in the upcoming District Council elections - promises to fight on.
The judicial review was instigated by Kwok Cheuk-kin, chairman of the Cheung Chau Neighbourhood Association and a candidate in next month's election for the Cheung Chau South constituency.
Kwok claimed that the commissioner for transport broke a promise to him to narrow the difference between Monday to Saturday fares and Sunday and public holiday fares from 46 per cent to below 20 per cent - a pledge made in a letter sent to him by transport officer Anna Yeung Min-jing, on behalf of the commissioner.
A ferry ride for an adult in ordinary class costs HK$12.60 from Mondays to Saturdays, compared with HK$18.40 on Sundays and holidays, a 46 per cent rise, as of July 1.
Kwok wants a price review, but Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon ruled that the government had done all it could in the tender process to minimise the fare difference.
The higher prices on Sundays and holidays mostly affect visitors, not residents, allowing the weekday prices for locals to remain low, the government said.
When deciding on prices, the government required tenderers to provide fare tables with and without the price difference. However, only one tender was submitted. It claimed that to reduce the fare difference to less than 20 per cent, weekday fares for adults would have to rise by as much as 30 per cent, which would have been unpopular with residents.
To keep fare increases to 9 per cent, the government said the commissioner was entitled to accept a fare difference on holidays of more than 20 per cent.
Lam also noted in the judgment that Kwok had a vested interest in lowering holiday fares, as he was hired by a Cheung Chau restaurant, which would get better business from tourists if holiday fares decline.
However, Kwok said he was a volunteer at the restaurant, and that did not influence his court claim.
Outside the court, Kwok said he would take the case all the way to the Court of Final Appeal. 'If the ferry operator is facing financial difficulties, then fine, I won't challenge it,' he said. 'But it is making huge profits and it still continues to increase the fare. The government has been talking about promoting local tourism ... Only cutting the fare on holidays will draw more holidaymakers to outlying islands.'
His election rivals are Kwong Koon-wan of Economic Synergy, and independents Stephen Sze Hou-ming, Rico Lo Wan-kai and Anil Kwong Sai-loi.
The number of daily passengers of New World First Ferry Services, the operator of the Cheung Chau ferries