THE Star Ferry Company fears delays of up to five minutes a trip caused by the Central reclamation will lead to a dramatic fall in patronage and fare increase. The operations manager for the Star Ferry company, Johnny Leung Tak-hing, said they had written to both the Marine Services Department and the Transport Department asking them to look into the problem. 'We have tried to urge them to monitor it and to enforce the main patrols because close monitoring of traffic may improve the situation,' he said. Mr Leung said although the delays were not long, they were of concern and passengers would be surveyed at the end of the year to ascertain whether delays had affected passengers' decisions to travel by ferry. The principal marine officer of the Vessel Traffic Services Branch, Captain Barrie Hird said the reclamation project had not caused any considerable increase in water traffic along Star Ferry routes. 'There are barges and tugs going to the project but the majority of them come from the west,' he said. 'There is a possible area of conflict on the eastern edge right where the ferries pass by but we have put a buoy down so there shouldn't be any problem. A spokesman for Wharf Transport Investments which manages the Star Ferry company said patronage on the three Star ferry services from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui, and Hunghom and from Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui had remained constant over the past three years at around 100,000 passengers a day. 'But the trend is discouraging,' he said. 'We are forecasting a drop in patronage because the Central to Wan Chai reclamation project is causing a lot of delays.' He said falling patronage levels would add to the company's financial problems which resulted in a 7.7 drop in profits last financial year. He refused to confirm a report carried in yesterday's Sing Tao which said the Star Ferry company was expecting to suffer a further 5.4 per cent fall in profit this financial year, and a 3.1 per cent decrease in 1996. 'We don't have such figures in hand because we have not worked out our final accounts,' he said. The spokesman said the falling profits had prompted Star Ferry's calls for a 14.6 per cent fare rise. However, the transport advisory company would only endorse a 13.8 per cent increase which has yet to be considered by the Executive Council. It is understood the matter may be officially determined by Exco next week. The spokesman said the 13.8 per cent increase endorsed by the transport advisory council was 'a little lower than expected but still within the amounts acceptable to the company'. If passed by Exco, the proposed fare increases mean most passengers will have to pay an extra 20 cents on cross-harbour trips from December. Children's fares will remain unchanged at $1 and people aged over 65 will continue to travel free.