The government has proposed the launch of two new public ferry routes next year, but the plans were greeted with skepticism from transport industry circles due to doubts about the economic viability of the services.
On Monday, the Transport Department (TD) said on its website that it is inviting interested parties to submit proposals as the government seeks to launch two new licensed ferry services in 2019.
Operators interested in servicing the routes will need to download a form and submit a formal expression of interest by Sept. 27, the announcement said.
According to the TD, one of the two new services will be from Central to Hung Hom, a route that was suspended in 2011 due to insufficient passenger volume but is now sought to be revived.
The other is a totally new and a circular one, which will cover key areas of the city, including Kai Tak, Hung Hom, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Central and West Kowloon, under the “water taxi” concept.
The former is aimed for operations launch in February next year at the earliest, while the circular route is tentatively set for September next year for commencement of services.
The TD didn’t provide any projections for passenger traffic nor did it outline the operational guidelines in relation to setting of the fares, leaving potential bidders in a quandary.
A department spokesman, however, said interested parties can recommend what order the “water taxi” should follow to make stops, or even ask for more stops other the planned five ones.
A spokesman from the New World First Ferry Services said it is not easy to recruit crew members these days and that the company also finds it difficult to evaluate the feasibility of running the two routes due to lack of operating details.
The company will make a decision only after it secures more information, he said, according to the Hong Kong Economic Journal.
A director of Fortune Ferry Co, which operates the route between North Point and Kwun Tong by way of Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, on his part expressed doubt whether the Central-Hung Hom route can attract passengers in sufficient number to enable a ferry operator to sustain the operations.
He, too, cited tight supply of crew members in the market as a major hurdle. Also, the railway’s Shatin-Central Link (SCL), once its services begin, may lure passengers away from the Central-Hung Hom route, similar to how the Eastern Harbour Crossing has impacted the North Point-Kwun Tong ferry route, the executive said.
But Chan Choi-hi, a member of Central and Western District Council, held a different view, saying it is a good thing to let Central to Hung Hom route become an alternative means of transport for the public besides SCL, especially given that the population in Hung Hom has increased in recent years.
Dr. Hung Wing-tat, a fellow from the Hong Kong Society for Transportation Studies, urged the government to focus on tourists for the planned new ferry routes.
The positioning of ferry services is nowadays different from the past when ferries were seen as a main form of daily transportation, Hung noted.
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