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Sun Hung Kai Properties

Plan to cut off-peak ferry services between Hong Kong Island and Ma Wan raises hackles among Park Island residents

Transport operator cites HK$600 million in losses and low passenger numbers, but proposal is rejected by owners committee

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 11:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 12:02pm

A plan to reduce ferry services during non-peak hours between Hong Kong Island and Ma Wan, on which the sprawling Park Island residential development is built, has sparked unhappiness among residents.

The proposal by Park Island Transport Company Limited (PITCL) was rejected by its owners committee last week, the firm said, although it can still apply to the Transport Department if it intends to press on with the plan.

The island’s main public transport operator said ferry services were vastly underutilised during non-peak hours and that it had lost about HK$600 million (US$76.5 million) over the past 16 years due to rising costs and “uneven usage of marine and land transportation services”. Flats at Park Island were completed in phases starting from 2002.

“The current demand for land transport is higher than [for] ferry services, with a ratio of 85:15 between passenger count taking buses to taking the ferry,” PITCL said in response to inquiries from the Post.

“The demand for ferry services is even lower during the non-peak hours of 10am to 3.30pm, with an average of 58 passengers per trip from Ma Wan to Central and a recorded low of eight passengers.”

There are 60 ferry sailings daily to and from Park Island and Central, at 15- to 30-minute intervals, except between 10am to 5pm, when there are two ferry trips back and forth, according to the company. There are also bus services to Central and the airport, as well as taxis.

There are altogether six daily sailings back and forth between the island – located between Lantau and Tsing Yi – and Tsuen Wan, and bus services when the ferries are not running.

I am extremely angry that six months into my residency, the accessibility that I bought into is being removed
Raymond Lee, Park Island homeowner

The smaller ferries can carry about 200 passengers, while the bigger ones can take double that number. About 12,000 people live on Park Island, with another 3,000 living in village homes on the fringes of the private estate.

This is not the first time PITCL has raised hackles by attempting to cut ferry services. In 2012, just months after developer Sun Hung Kai Properties Limited, which owns the residential site and PITCL, sold flats from the estate’s final phase of development, it scrapped the Tsuen Wan ferry route completely.

After residents demanded a resumption of service, PITCL reinstated the route but with only six ferry trips each day.

Raymond Lee, a recruitment consultant who lives in one of Park Island’s more than 2,500 units, was among the homeowners who rejected PITCL’s proposal last week.

“As a homeowner who recently bought a property here, I am extremely angry that six months into my residency, the accessibility that I bought into is being removed,” Lee said.

“I believe this is a dishonourable and appalling act by a multibillion-dollar corporation,” he added, referring to Sun Hung Kai Properties.

Norma Teggart Freeman, who has lived in Park Island for almost six years, said: “The ferry is a vital service that connects us to Central. The bus or MTR option is not the same and is already overcrowded.”

“The intended cuts threaten the most vulnerable in our community: elderly or sick people who cannot stand on buses or walk far, stay-at-home parents, school and nursery children and pet owners ... If PITCL cannot properly run the service, the Transport Department must intervene.”

PITCL however said it was facing an increasingly challenging business environment and had racked up a deficit in previous years.

“Due to increasing oil prices, labour costs, maintenance fees and uneven usage of marine and land transportation services, the company has been facing continuous losses in the previous 16 years,” it said, adding that the sum came to about HK$600 million.

In its statement, the transport operator asserted that the government-approved 4 per cent increase in ferry fares made three years ago had done little to make up for the annual double-digit increase in fuel costs and other fees. Reducing ferry services was its only option, PITCL said.

Residents want flight path diverted at night for some peace and quiet

Ma Wan is part of Tsuen Wan District Council in New Territories West. Its local representative, Roy Tam Hoi-Pong, said the marine link was crucial for the island in case there was an obstruction along Lantau Link, its only road connection to other parts of Hong Kong.

“Residents will usually consider taking ferry services, especially when traffic accidents occur in this region,” the district councillor said at a press briefing on Monday, noting that 62 accidents were recorded on three sections of the link last year.

He added that when there were strong winds, certain lanes on Lantau Link, which crosses over open sea, would be closed for safety reasons.

New Territories East lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai suggested that PITCL bring its proposal to the Transport Department and urged it to bear the welfare of Ma Wan residents in mind when evaluating the plan.