Discovery Bay fares set to rise by 9.5pc
Residents in the Lantau development face more expensive ferry and bus rides as the company blames petrol, staff and maintenance costs
Lana Lam, Amy Nip and Christy Choi
Discovery Bay residents catching the ferry to and from Central and riding buses around the Lantau development may soon be hit with a 9.5 per cent fare rise.
Developer HKR International, which owns the local ferry and bus companies, blamed the proposed increases on rising petrol, staff and maintenance costs.
A spokeswoman for the developer said its ferry operations - Discovery Bay Transportation Services - were in the red, with a HK$6 million loss in 2011-12 despite a fare increase in 2011.
"In particular, Discovery Bay's location, the high expectations of residents and the need for drivers to communicate with passengers in English have posed extra challenges," the spokeswoman said.
Cheaper tickets for seniors, children under 12 and students had also hurt the company's revenues, she said.
"It is estimated the loss in future years will exceed HK$20 million annually," she said.
"The proposed ferry fare increase will help to reduce the deficit but it won't help the company to break even."
In May 2011, ferry fares between Discovery Bay and Central went up by an average of 7.5 per cent after the Transport Department reduced the ferry company's original proposal for a 9 per cent increase.
In May 2009, daytime ferry fares between Discovery Bay and Central increased by up to 15 per cent, with overnight services rising almost 70 per cent.
The company has now sought approval from the Transport Department to increase fares by an average of 9.5 per cent from May.
"We might have to move back to Kennedy Town," said Alison Main, a 38-year-old mother-of-two, at the Central ferry pier yesterday. "That's quite a difference. I work out here four days a week and my husband six days."
The couple uses the ferry service twice a day.
Michael, a classical musician who has been living in Discovery Bay for the past five or six years, said he already made more use of the MTR, which is around HK$10 to HK$12 cheaper than the ferry.
"That's a lot of money when you add it up. It'll mean eating out less," said the father of two, who would give only his first name.
"They know they have a monopoly."
Main added that while it could be an option to tender out the ferry service to another bidder, that scenario may not actually solve the issues.
"I used to also live in Mui Wo and when they tendered it out, the prices still went up while the services went down," she said.
A spokeswoman for the department said that transport officials had received the proposal and had yet to come to a decision.
"We are still examining the justifications for the fare increase and the operational and financial data submitted," she said.
On the bus fare increase, Kenneth Chan from the City Owners' Committee said members were still finalising the exact details, but that a 9.5 per cent rise was discussed at its most recent meeting on January 16.
Fares for buses, run by Discovery Bay Transit Services, have not increased since 2008.
About 18,000 people live in Discovery Bay, where cars are banned. The area is popular among families with young children.
Amy Yung Wing-sheung, the district councillor for Discovery Bay, wrote in a recent letter to residents about the fare rise proposal, saying: "No financial statements have been produced in both cases."
She is currently gathering opinions from residents on the matter.
For years, local district councillors have been calling for more transport companies to be allowed to operate in Discovery Bay to increase competition and drive down prices.