Tourism reputation hanging by a wire
The Lantau Island cable car is one of the world's longest at 5.7 kilometres but, regrettably, not one of the most reliable. For the second time in its six-year life it has been closed for months following operational incidents that dented public confidence. In the latest incident in January, hundreds of visitors were stranded in mid-air for almost two hours in near-freezing temperatures after vibrations in a cable-winding wheel triggered a safety sensor that halted the ride. A report by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department said vibration monitoring had not been frequent enough to enable timely replacement of worn wheel bearings.
With the ride reopening, we trust the lesson has been learned. The incident is disappointing in the light of the report by an expert panel on the plunge of an empty cable-car gondola in 2007, which it blamed on the improper operation of service brakes during a test. To ensure a more reliable service, it called for a range of improvements in operational areas including more effective preventive measures against corrosion, refresher lessons for operational and maintenance staff, clearer procedures and work instructions and better management of replacement parts supplies. But despite these new measures, the problems of excessive vibration and worn bearings still slipped through.
The latest incident was compounded by complaints from tourists that staff were unhelpful and that they were not kept informed. It also blotted the claim by the cable-car company, a subsidiary of MTR Corp, of a reliability rate of up to 99 per cent since the first incident. This dependability needs to be re-established and maintained if public confidence is to be restored in one of the biggest public investments in our tourist industry, along with Disneyland and Ocean Park. Tourism is a pillar of Hong Kong's economy. The cable car complements the two theme parks with unrivalled views of some of the city's most spectacular scenery. It is not named Ngong Ping 360 for nothing.