Cable car faces HK$35m losses
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The MTR Corporation, which operates the Lantau cable car, may lose as much as HK$35 million in revenue, because services will be suspended for at least two more months to allow worn ball bearings to be replaced.
Operations at the Ngong Ping 360 cable car have been suspended since an incident left patrons dangling in mid-air for two chilly hours during the Lunar New Year holidays.
Temperatures of about 3 degrees Celsius made the delay highly unpleasant for the more than 800 trapped passengers.
The January 25 incident was the latest in a series of mechanical failures that have hit the troubled tourist attraction in recent months.
A preliminary investigation blamed the disruption on a faulty ball bearing inside a 'bullwheel' - which drives and redirects the cable - at the Airport Island Angle station. The bearing had been used for 25,000 hours; its lifespan is 90,000 hours.
Signs of irregular wear were found between some of the faulty bearing's rollers and the contact surface, said Wilson Shao Shing-ming, managing director of Ngong Ping 360.
'Such irregular wear would cause cable cars not to operate smoothly,' Shao said yesterday. 'A lack of smooth operation may cause the cable cars to stop periodically.'
The bearing would be sent for tests to determine the cause, Shao said.
He said Ngong Ping 360 had offered to refund 4,000 tickets. He said the average daily patronage was 4,000 during weekdays and 7,000 on Saturdays and on Sundays.
Assuming passengers all buy adult round-trip tickets at HK$125, the operator could suffer revenue losses of about HK35 million.
Shao said the problem had not affected the safety of the cable car, but all seven bearings should be replaced to ensure reliability. Five of them have been in use since the cable cars went into service in 2006, while two were replaced last year.
He said engineers regularly conducted visual checks on the bearings and used computers to monitor vibration and noise.
Two months were needed for the overhaul since frames must be erected to raise the bullwheels, which weigh four to eight tonnes, Shao said. Helicopters will take the lifting frames to the cable car's station on Nei Lak Shan, which may take weeks and could be delayed by weather.
The government said it 'will only approve the resumption of the cable car service when the inspection result is satisfactory'.
Adi Lau Tin-shing, board chairman of Ngong Ping 360, pledged to improve checks and to better inform the public about incidents.
Alan Ling, a teahouse tenant in Ngong Ping market, said shopkeepers might consider collective action if a special allowance offered by the MTR Corp during the shutdown was not satisfactory. 'Business has almost dried up in the past week when the cable car was closed,' he said.
Legislator Paul Tse Wai-chun of the tourism sector said MTR Corp could arrange free shuttle bus services to ferry visitors.