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  • Apr 17, 2014
  • Updated: 2:08am
NewsHong Kong
TRANSPORT

Discovery Bay residents fear fate of ferry service

Operator explores contracting service out as fares keep rising

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 5:11am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 7:25am

Retiree Les Chu Kai-lan and his family have lived in Discovery Bay for more than a decade.

"We chose to live here because of the quiet and green environment that was unusual in Hong Kong," Chu said of the residential enclave on Lantau Island.

The regular ferry service to Central - a 25-minute ride, free of congestion and with a guaranteed seat - clinched the deal.

"The travelling time to Central was equivalent to, or often better than, when we lived in Pok Fu Lam," he said.

But a Transport Department notice posted at the entrance to the pier in September has Chu, and other residents, worried about the future of the all-important ferry service.

The department was seeking residents' views on a proposal by the ferry operator, Discovery Bay Transportation Services, to contract out the service. Dated September 12, it gave residents 17 days to respond. The deadline was later changed, giving residents an extra 10 days.

Many saw it as an attempt by the ferry operator - a subsidiary of developer Hong Kong Resort Company (HKR) - to shirk its responsibility.

Under a deed of mutual covenant among HKR, the government and the enclave's 18,000 residents, HKR has sole private development rights in Discovery Bay, but it is also obliged to provide ferry services to the city.

Residents say HKR has been increasing fares on an almost annual basis for years, yet it refuses to release figures for passenger numbers and fuel costs. In the absence of any communication from HKR, some suspect it would still manage the pier, seeking rent from the new operator - and leading to even higher fares.

When contacted to respond to the issue, HKR said only that the Transport Department was conducting the public consultation on contracting out the ferry service.

Discovery Bay residents were dependent on the ferry service from the start of the development in 1982 until 2000, when a road tunnel was completed, linking it to the Tung Chung MTR line.

A bus service was introduced, also run by HKR. It is cheaper and more convenient for those working in Kowloon, but a longer trip for the majority headed for Hong Kong Island. Buses are increasingly overcrowded in peak hours.

Adding to residents' woes, the ferry service between Discovery Bay and Mui Wo will be cut in February as a result of low usage and soaring fuel costs. About 40 schoolchildren use the ferry for a 20-minute ride that would take more than an hour by bus.

When Islands district councillor Amy Yung Wing-sheung found out about the notice, she carried out her own survey of residents. Of 348 replies, 99 per cent objected to the tender. A number of those were from people who had left Discovery Bay, fed up with high transport costs. Yung sent the replies to the department, but has yet to hear back.

The Transport Department approved a 9.5 per cent average fare rise in May. A one-way adult daytime ticket is now HK$37, while children and the elderly pay HK$18.50 - a rise of more than double the inflation rate. At night, costs are HK$52.70 and HK$33.80 respectively.

The department cited "prevailing and anticipated operating conditions" in approving the fare increase.

Yung says fares have risen almost every year since the late 1990s. "If the increase was small, in line with [inflation], we would let it go. But in 2008-09 we faced substantial increases, and cuts in ferry services of 25 to 30 per cent."

She wants the government to pay more attention to Discovery Bay since, under the terms of the deed, it can take back the area if HKR is seen to be failing to run the development appropriately.

For now, residents such as technical consultant Edwin Rainbow, who has lived in the enclave for 14 years, can only wait for more information.

"It is impossible for us to believe owners in Discovery Bay support fare increases on ferries and buses," he said. "But we have no real chance to express our opinions."

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cleareye
Captam's spoke like a person without any social conscience, or a brain. DB Ferry is a mass transit, like the MTR. Both are regulated by the Transport Department. The most expensive fare on the MTR is $28.60 where one can travel anywhere in HK that covers 1104 sqkm. MTR is also unique as compared to the "Nowhere in the World" wherein riders can enjoy an air-conditioned high-speed transport facility, but it is still less costly than one DB Ferry ride. DB ferry fare is $37 for about 12 km journey.
When compared to other world cities like New York for a $5.00 ferry ride, Captam failed to realize that the minimum wage in Hong Kong is HK$30 whereas New York, US$8.00 or HK$62.00.
It is difficult to surmise the description of "a luxury ferry" by Captam. It would only suggest his taste, or lack of. When it comes to rising energy prices, Captam should pick up a Wall Street Journal once in a while.
The saddest part is Captam's arrogance in telling people to leave DB if they cannot handle the financial burden. The origin DB residents who created this community were not rich folks that frequent luxury ferries, but hard working people who sacrificed convenience for affordable housing well before luxury units were built. For a family of four who travel outside DB to earn a living and seek affordable education, their daily commuting costs are $288 per day minimum.
Without a yardstick for social values, how would Captam know whether a value is excellent or not?
captam
The Discovery Ferry service is excellent value for money. Nowhere else in the world can passengers ride an air-conditioned comfortable high-speed ferry for a 30-minutes journey for less than GB 3 Pounds or US$5. Running a luxury ferry like this costs at least as much as operational and maintenance costs in other countries. Many of the residents who never stop moaning about rising tickets prices, conveniently forget about the rising fuel prices and wages etc. which the ferry company faces. It is as if these residents have a death wish and wish to force the company to curtail services.
If they really think that transport charges are so high for travelling such a long distance, they should move to Hong Kong Island and face paying double the rents or buy houses twice the cost in less well managed estates next to air-polluted congested traffic corridors.
icwu
Governments are to serve the people under China's new reform direction. Hong Kong should take the lead in this call. Yet the Transportation Department, in the case of the Discovery Bay Ferry Issue, is way too close to Big Business. A small posting at the ferry pier, I heard, is all residents get of the notice. With a surplus filled coffer, don't believe that the TD can't afford to put a flier in the residents' mail boxes.
scmp04
The Transport Department in each of the past cases of fare increases has done little to hear and understand the concerns of DB residents.
HKR cannot be relied upon to do the right thing. Their own history of operating the ferry's in Hong Kong has shown at least one potential instance of serious irregularity.
Yet another example of how Big Business and Government in Hong Kong seem way too cozy, at the expense of the public.
It will be interesting to see if the Transport Department will step up to their duty this time.........
klsocha
HKR needs to be forced to disclose the ferry operating costs and numbers of passengers using the service.
Disco Bay residents should have the right to know this information so an informed discussion can take place.

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