Global firm floats plan for water taxi service

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2012, 12:00am


An international company is interested in running a water taxi service in Victoria Harbour, despite grim business prospects for local ferries, the head of the harbour watchdog has revealed.

The government and the Harbourfront Commission are determined to increase the vibrancy of the waterfront, but have expressed doubts about the feasibility of a water taxi, which would probably run parallel to the shore rather than across the harbour.

Commission chairman Nicholas Brooke said the undisclosed company - which has had success with similar ventures in New York, Sydney and Vancouver - had approached him with the idea.

'It could be a vessel with a capacity of about 50 passengers, serving both tourists and commuters,' he said. 'People can hop on and hop off from Tai Koo to North Point, Quarry Bay, Wan Chai, Central and even the [West Kowloon] arts hub. Like an MTR on water.'

The idea of running water taxis off Kowloon and Hong Kong Island has been on the agenda in recent years due to a series of waterfront development projects, such as the arts hub and the Island East harbourfront improvement plan - spanning from North Point to Shau Kei Wan.

Water taxis were featured in British architect Norman Foster's design for West Kowloon, while a Planning Department study released last month suggested they were a way to enhance the attractiveness of the Island East project.

Leung Kong-yui, a transportation specialist and chairman of the commission's task force on water-land interface, hopes the global company will start talks with the Marine Department, which is responsible for licensing water transport.

'The demand for a water taxi service has yet to be confirmed, but it will definitely increase the vibrancy of waterfront areas if it's welcomed by the public,' he said.

But the fate of the ferry industry may cast doubt over the feasibility of a water taxi business.

Star Ferry lost HK$17 million in the three years after its Central terminal moved in 2006, while ferries between Hung Hom and Central, and Hung Hom and Wan Chai were dropped last year after no bidder came forward to run them. Ferry services' share of public transport usage has fallen from 3.3 per cent in 1989 to 1.2 per cent in 2010, because of a stronger public transport network.