No one likes fare increases. But in these inflationary times, they are to be expected. Rising costs have already prompted major transport operators to raise tariffs this year. So when the cross-harbour ferry operator announced moderate adjustment proposals for one of the lowest fares in the city, there was little opposition.
But it is disappointing that the Star Ferry is seeking a new HK$20 surcharge on each bicycle for the popular Tsim Sha Tsui-Wan Chai route starting from January. This is eight times the standard tariff for a passenger. It makes no sense for the operator to reverse its current policy of allowing non-peak-hour trips to carry up to 10 bikes for free.
The operator may see this as a way of bringing in more revenue for the loss-making service. But such an approach runs contrary to the spirit of supporting non-polluting transport. Cycling is a green mode of transport that has been underpromoted in Hong Kong. The surcharge, if approved by the government, would send the wrong signal and force cyclists to cross the harbour in taxis instead of ferries.
Bicycles should be easily accommodated on board without extra cost. The argument that the operator has to deploy extra staff to ensure cyclists' safety when using the gang plank is unconvincing. The Hong Kong Cycling Alliance is up in arms about the charge. The quick response to a signature petition - more than 600 within a week - shows there is a strong case for a rethink.
No doubt some ferry operators around the world still charge more for bicycles than passengers. But cities like Sydney and Toronto do not charge extra for bicycles. Washington state in the United States has just moved to drop its US$1 surcharge for some routes.
Cyclists in Hong Kong never have an easy ride as the government still refuses to recognise bicycles as a viable form of transport. A more cycling-friendly transport policy is needed to promote a greener way of travelling.