Ferry route closure may force pupils into long commute on buses
Long slog to school looms as boat firm to scrap Mui Wo-DB service, citing costs
The Transport Department is looking for a ferry operator to take over services between Mui Wo and Discovery Bay so 40 students do not have to spend triple the time they currently take to go to school by catching a bus when the ferry operator closes the route in November.
But Ken Wong Hon-kuen, director of Peng Chau Kaito, the ferry operator, said the department has no chance of finding another operator to take over.
Wong said his firm would stop services on the route due to extra costs linked to the Marine Department's new measures to ensure safety at sea. Those measures are to be introduced in the hope of avoiding a tragedy like the Lamma ferry disaster that took place last October.
The measures mandate the installation of automatic identification systems and that vessels carrying more than 100 passengers have a lookout on the bridge at night and in reduced visibility.
"My company's licence actually expired in August," Wong said. "The department invited tenders to take over from me, but no one was interested.
"Then the department asked if I wanted to operate the route for a few more months because the Mui Wo children need the ferries to go to school in Discovery Bay. My licence was then extended."
No one was interested in operating the route because it generated little profit, he said. With extra costs due to the new measures, it would be "definitely impossible" for the department to find anyone to take over.
It takes 25 minutes to go between Mui Wo and Discovery Bay by ferry, but an hour more by bus.
Wong said the students were worried and had asked if he could offer just two trips a day so they can go to school and back. But Wong said it would not be viable as costs were too high.
He has already reduced the number of weekday two-way services from five to two to cut costs, and said that about 700 people take a ferry between Mui Wo and Discovery Bay on weekends.
Lawmaker and Islands district councillor Bill Tang Ka-piu said Wong could reduces the passenger capacity of his boats to less than 100 so he would not be affected by some of the new measures.
Kwong Koon-wan, another Islands district councillor, doubted whether the Marine Department's new measures would improve safety as the reasons for marine accidents were typically captains' navigation and not the equipment on boats.