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Victoria Harbour circular ferry service ready by September 2019, Hong Kong government says in response to calls for ‘water taxi’

Boats will stop at Kai Tak, Hung Hom, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Central and West Kowloon, but critics say the service is more like a tour bus than a taxi

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 12:40pm

A much anticipated “water taxi” planned for Victoria ­Harbour turns out to be just ­another ferry service.

The Transport Department ­revealed on Monday it came up with a circular ferry route to ­respond to public demand.

The service, including at least five stops, is expected to begin operating from September next year. Although the department said the initiative was in response to the public’s wish for a water taxi service, critics say it is more akin to a tour bus, where passengers can hop on and off at designated stops.

The department on Monday also revealed the return of a ferry service between Central and Hung Hom expected to operate from February next year, according to a tendering document inviting interested bidders. The service route closed down in 2011 due to a lack of passengers.

The circular route, dubbed the “water taxi” service by the government, will stop at Kai Tak, Hung Hom, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Central and West Kowloon.

“The … service aims to respond to suggestions from the community to introduce the ‘water taxi’ service between different calling points along the waterfront of Victoria Harbour to bring vibrancy to the harbour,” the department said in the document.

The 25km circular route service will operate from 7am to 11pm from Mondays to Saturdays, and from 8am to 10pm on Sundays and public holidays. The whole journey should not exceed 110 minutes, the department said.

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Each ferry needs to be able to carry at least 150 passengers, and be designed in a way that people can enjoy the scenery on both sides of the harbour, it said.

There will be discounts for children, the elderly and those with disabilities. Round-trip tickets, day passes, half-day passes and monthly passes will also be available.

Passengers with round-trip tickets will be able to board at any stop and alight at the same stop, while those with day or half-day passes will be able to hop on and off at any stop.

Bidders can also propose side routes between the four main stops, as well as more stops along the harbour.

The 3.7km Central-Hung Hom service will operate from 7.30am to 7pm every day, with a travelling time of no more than 20 minutes.

Bidders for the two routes are also invited to propose pier beautification plans with suitable commercial facilities.

Lawmaker Yiu Si-wing, who represents the tourism sector, said the concept of the “water taxi” service was closer to that of a tour bus than of a taxi.

“People expect fast and point-to-point transport from a taxi,” Yiu said. “Here the ‘water taxi’ concept is a little bit confusing. It’s more like a tourism project than public transport.”

Yiu said the public had been expecting a water taxi service as an alternative to Hong Kong’s often congested roads. But he said such a service would be difficult to materialise because it required many piers and relatively high costs.

He said the government’s version of a water taxi service “looked OK” as a tourism project, which could bring visitors to various attractions such as the Ferris wheel in Central, the West Kowloon Cultural District, the coming Palace Museum and the Kai Tak cruise terminal.

Hong Kong water taxis: when you haggled to cross harbour at dawn, fares were ‘diabolical’, but the service was 24-hour

Regarding the Central-Hung Hom ferry service, Yiu said it remained to be seen whether it would attract enough bidders.

Yiu said the route was expected to serve mainly people living in Whampoa Garden, the area’s major housing estate, but the service closed down in 2011, even before an MTR station opened at the estate in 2016.

Now with the station, Yiu said, there would be more doubts as to whether enough people would want to use the ferry service.

The tender submission process will end on September 27.