• Wed
  • Jul 30, 2014
  • Updated: 1:42am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 7:52am

Smoke and mirrors of ferry economics

Transport officials want to spend a whopping HK$610 million to build additional floors on the Central ferry piers to enhance the shopping and dining experience in the heart of the city.

The plan is for the new facilities to have fabulous green features, including air-con with carbon dioxide sensors to control the fresh air supply. Believe me, visitors and workers there will really need those sensors. Why? Because the piers are berths to some of the world's most polluting ferries.

Frankly, our bureaucrats have got to be kidding. Perhaps they should pay a visit to the site besides looking at spreadsheets.

As well as the glory of our harbour, the lasting impression visitors take away from the piers is the choking exhaust fumes of the vessels operated by New World First Ferry and Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry.

And this is a tourist attraction our bureaucrats want to showcase to the world?

Operators like New World think they are performing a noble public service, with their executives never tiring of telling us how economically unviable the business really is.

Ummm … isn't that why taxpayers have been subsidising the operators to a maximum of HK$115 million over the past three years? Now they want the cap raised to HK$191 million for the next three years.

That's the real reason the Transport Bureau wants to build more floors on the piers - to generate extra rent and revenue to cross-subsidise the ferries. The obvious thing, or so it seems to most clean-air advocates, is to tie the subsidies to a requirement that the ferry operators clean up their act. Yet the companies are being treated with kid gloves.

With the subsidies and planned extra storeys, public spending on ferries is pushing a billion dollars. If we're looking at a financial black hole, the government should at least offer new ferry tenders with full subsidies to upgrade emission standards.

Pan-democrats such as Kwok Ka-ki and Albert Chan Wai-yip have suggested off the cuff that the government take over the ferry services, which transport chief Anthony Cheung Bing-leung estimated would cost HK$1.7 billion. Given what we will be spending anyway, that might not be such a bad idea.


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I am a strong believer in who cares about transport company profits. That is the wrong thing to think about. We should care about "pollution".
If that means the Hong Kong government buys 200 busses for KMB or 4 boats for New World with the stipulation they are used to replace the worst polluting ones. That old trucks are given subsidies to get them off the road. that Taxis get subsidies to go electric.
Everyone wants cleaner air for a better quality of life. Also HK will save allot more $$$ by cleaning up the air than they would spend on buying the new transport services.
Also bus companies MUST realign bus services to meet the needs of today. Every single day I have the choice of 5 different busses to take me home - total overkill.
Over the next 4 years allot of new MTR stations will be added. Busses need to become fast and efficient feeders to these stations rather than long haul busses. People will love the improved speeds though quieter roads.
What is conveniently forgotten is that, with the exception of its few fast ferries, First Ferry's fleet is all well over 25 years old. The vessels are all fully depreciated and, in the jargon, are cash cows so how First Ferry's operations can be economically non-viable is hard to understand. HKKF, with its much newer vessels (and cleaner) and smaller target market is in a different situation but, again, it is difficult to understand how they manage to lose so much money.
I assume because they are pushed to keep a regular timing that in between rush hours they are sitting empty. I have been on empty ferries before. very nice to have 50 people on a big boat (can walk around) but the company is loosing allot.
HK government should subsidize the replacement of all ferries over 20 years with smaller more environmentally friendly ones. Then even though they run every 30 minutes they can run at more capacity than moving back and forward empty seats.
Has anyone ever seen a 70% full ferry? I have not.
John Adams
Your colleague Howard Winn made exactly the same point last week in his Laisee column.
Both of you are correct, and the transport dept is yet again wrong :totally wrong.
Why is that whenever these kind of decisions come up and govt is considering yet more subsidies to public transport companies , the franchised operator comes first ( MONEY and MORE PROFIT ! ) and the public comes last (POLLUTION and MORE POLLUTION !)?
Same same story with our filthy buses and electricity power-generating companies.
I also bet that the logistic companies which keep Park-n-Shop and Wellcome going are not required to operate clean / EURO 6 standard delivery vans
( I thought Donald Tsang along with his gutless environment sec Edwards Yau both retired last year. So why do we still pursue Tsang's policy of love-the-cartels / hate-the-public- and -pollute-them-to-death )
The Thatcher economic has limit. Privatization of public services in Hong Kong hasn’t be working economically or progressively. Ferries, buses and electrical power plants all are engulfed with issues. Yet government is providing subsidies that putting public money into the pockets of those private companies even of poor and backward in operation. Hong Kong is not really a free market and the lack in business competition, the monopolies have held government and the general public at ransom. Thatcher economic requires true free market to succeed and putting public services even in real free market is an inappropriate place to be. So, government should go ahead spend the money to upgrade the fuel after ‘publictize’ the ferries from New World First Ferry and Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry. Stop using the Transport Bureau as a landlord to tackle political and economic problem. Keep its mission on transportation only and leave politics and policy to CY Leung. Yes to the public too.
Here we go again. As with bus companies conveniently separating their accounting of profits and losses between running a bus service and advertising revenue derived from owning buses, so New World First Ferry conveniently separates operating local ferrys services from the lucrative Hong Kong - Macau ferry service. It is one business! They were given entrance to the Macau sevice so that they could offset losses on the local service. Our Government appears to have a short memory and no balls when dealing with big business. Not only should New World be forced to use clean fuel, but they also should be forced to present one set of consolidated accounts when arguing over profits and losses and demanding subsidies.


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