Discovery Bay ferry firm cuts cargo service

Prices are expected to rise as shopkeepers pay more to move goods, but operator says tunnel has eaten into usage of the sea route

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 3:20am

Shopkeepers in Discovery Bay are crying "unfair" after the ferry company serving Lantau signalled an end to a pier-to-pier cargo service.

From next month, people shipping goods to Discovery Bay must send a staff member to travel with the goods or transport them by the more expensive road route.

Now they can have the goods delivered to the pier in Central where ferry staff will carry them aboard at a cost, for example, of HK$30 for a case of wine. Shopkeepers collect the goods at the other end.

The cargo operators received a notice from ferry company Discovery Bay Transportation Services on May 17 informing them that the service would be suspended from June 18. A few weeks ago, the government approved a 9.5 per cent increase in Discovery Bay ferry fares.

Islands district councillor Amy Yung Wing-sheung said some operators had complained to her, calling the suspension unfair and unnecessary. She said the extra costs would eventually be reflected in the prices residents paid.

"Discovery Bay is becoming unaffordable for small families," she said.

Yung said the ferry company was reluctant to discuss the matter with them.

"Why is there no transparency? If there's a problem with the service, they should talk to us."

She said the operators had told her they did not mind paying more to keep the service. But they would find it too costly to employ an extra person to accompany the cargo or to hire vans to carry goods via a tunnel connecting Discovery Bay to the North Lantau Highway, which costs HK$120 a trip. Private delivery vans need special permits to enter Discovery Bay.

Yung said Discovery Bay Transportation Services was obliged to offer the service because it had a monopoly in the neighbourhood. The service should not be a burden to the company, she said, as she had observed that no extra staff member was assigned to mind the goods on board.

Discovery Bay developer Hong Kong Resort Company - parent of the ferry operator - said the service had existed since the early days of Discovery Bay when there was no tunnel, and demand had dropped significantly since the tunnel opened in 2000.

"Nowadays, most cargo is transported into DB via the tunnel," it said.

It said the ferry operation was understaffed and it was difficult to allocate resources to the service. It would, however, continue to help clinics deliver laboratory specimens and medicine in envelopes or small boxes. The firm said it was open to discussion with residents or tenants on any other feasible arrangement.