Discovery Bay ferry firm seeking another fare rise

Councillors oppose planned increases for other island routes, saying they weren't consulted

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 4:16am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 5:10am

The operator of the CentralDiscovery Bay ferry service is in talks with transport authorities about further fare increases - less than a year after it raised prices by 9.5 per cent.

On the outlying islands, meanwhile, district councillors are upset that the government last week set out detailed recommendations for higher fares - of 5 to 6 per cent more - on six routes without consulting them.

The proposed rates were lower than the roughly 10 per cent increase requested by ferry operators and there was "little room for further reduction", Michael Ng Shi-hung, principal transport officer of the Transport Department, told an Islands District Council meeting yesterday. Ng came under fire for describing the rate of increase as "mild".

"The proposed fare rises were announced only last week, and [the government] even boasted it had already lowered the level from 10 to 6 per cent, as if it had done a great job," councillor Lai Tsz-man said.

Ferry fares for Discovery Bay last rose on May 12, following an average 7.5 per cent increase in May 2011. The one-way adult daytime ticket now costs HK$37, while children and the elderly pay HK$18.50.

The department confirmed it received a request from the operator for a fare rise and was in talks about the level, but said it "had no stance" on it at the moment.

Under the government proposal for the outlying islands, fares for the Central ferries to Mui Wo, Ping Chau, Cheung Chau, Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan are to go up by 5 to 6.2 per cent.

Fares for inter-island services between Ping Chau, Mui Wo, Chi Ma Wan and Cheung Chau will go up by 4.9 per cent.

It is proposed that all the new fares take effect from July 1 except for the Central-Mui Wo route, for which the date of implementation is to be April 1.

The department said it had "agreed in principle" to extend the licences of the four operators for three years, until mid-2017.

The levels of increase were reached after factoring in the operators' financial conditions, performance, rising operating costs, and measures adopted to save costs and generate greater revenue, the department said.

In July, the Legislative Council approved HK$190 million of government subsidies to the six routes.

But the sum was said to be insufficient to cover the pressure on operators from "persistently high fuel prices" and the soaring wages resulting from substantial marine construction works.

All the district councillors who spoke at yesterday's meeting opposed the proposal, with most of the complaints centred on the lack of public consultation.

Some pointed to "unsatisfactory" services, saying higher fares could not be justified. For example, there is no ferry for Lamma Island residents to Central between 11.30pm and 6.20am.

Lai said the government should have had enough time to consult the district council, since it received the operators' applications for licence renewals in August.