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Traffic and road safety in Hong Kong

Return of Hong Kong’s water taxis needs planning

If done well, the reappearance of such transport on the harbour could provide a valuable modern take on a romantic feature of Hong Kong’s past

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 March, 2018, 1:52am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 March, 2018, 1:51am

Hong Kong’s harbour has rightly been described as the jewel in the city’s crown. Flanked on each side by stunning skylines, especially when lit up at night, the harbour is Hong Kong’s best known landmark and most enduring memory for visitors to the city.

Crossing the harbour is not always a pleasant experience, however. The Star Ferry, making the trip since 1898, retains its charm. But most journeys between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon involve a crowded underground trip on the Mass Transit Railway, or sitting in a traffic jam before a drive through the cross-harbour tunnel. A proposal to reintroduce water taxis on the harbour is, therefore, welcome. But it will require careful planning.

Plain sailing for water taxis in Hong Kong as survey finds high demand for proposed service

Water taxis used to be a feature of Hong Kong life. Known as walla-wallas because of the noise they made, the motorised boats would ferry 20-30 people at a time across the harbour. Landing points were placed in the city’s busiest districts. They faded out, however, when the cross-harbour tunnel opened in 1972. A government proposal to bring water taxis back is being worked on and been well received. In an opinion poll released last week, almost 9 out of 10 respondents expressed an interest in using the service.

The plan has the potential to prove popular with both tourists and local people. It would provide more flexibility than the existing ferry service, allowing passengers to travel directly to their destination. The water taxis would be especially welcome as a means of travelling to the West Kowloon Cultural District, as it develops. But much needs to be done.

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Many parts of the harbour are inaccessible, making it difficult for people to disembark. New piers are needed. Care must be taken to ensure passenger safety and the boats should not make Hong Kong’s air or noise pollution any worse than it already is. The suggestion that passengers should be able to use a mobile application to book the boats is a good one.

Few details of the plan have been released. There will be a need for buy-in from the private sector. But if done well, the reappearance of water taxis in the harbour could provide a valuable modern take on a romantic feature of Hong Kong’s past.