A Discovery Bay councillor says residents are outraged after the government approved their ferry operator's 9.5 per cent average fare rise application, which takes effect from May 12.
Under the new fares, adult Octopus card users travelling between Central and Discovery Bay would be charged HK$37 for each day ride, up from the current HK$33.80. Children, pupils under 18 who live there, and the elderly would pay HK$18.5 per ride, up from HK$16.90. At night, adults would pay HK$52.70, up from HK$48. Children, students and the elderly would pay HK$33.80, up from HK$31.
Transport card users would pay a new fare of 36.3 points, up from 33.1 points, per day ride. Students under 18 who live in Discovery Bay, children and the elderly would be charged 18.2 points, up from 16.6 points.
The Transport Department said the new fares - proposed by Discovery Bay Transportation Services, the ferry route operator owned by Lantau developer HKR International - were approved after careful evaluation of the service's prevailing and anticipated operating conditions and passenger affordability.
But even after the fare adjustment, the operator would not break even, the department said. It added that it understood residents' objections, but the ferry company had said it would stop operating if it could not reduce its projected loss through the fare adjustment.
Discovery Bay district councillor Amy Yung Wing-sheung said residents were outraged that the department had caved in to the developer's threats, and put its interests above those of residents. "The threat to withdraw the vital ferry service highlights the developer's complete lack of responsibility ... yet when it comes time to review the fare application, the department ignores the profits that HKR makes in property development and tells us it would have cancelled the service if it had not approved the application," Yung said.
NeoDemocrats lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai said it was unacceptable that the government approved an increase that was more than double the inflation rate. If the operator threatened to stop the service, the government should at least have tested the market to see if any other firm could take over, he said. "It's certainly a monopoly," said Fan. "The developer is exploiting the dependence of residents to use the service to travel to and from Central."
HKR International had earlier blamed the proposed fare increases on rising petrol prices, staff wages and maintenance costs. The company said the services were in the red, with a HK$6 million loss in 2011-12 despite a fare increase in 2011. It estimated an annual future loss of more than HK$20 million.
In May 2011, ferry fares between Discovery Bay and Central went up by an average of 7.5 per cent after the Transport Department reduced the ferry company's original proposal for a 9 per cent increase.
The department said it would extend the operator's licence for a year until April 30 next year.