Hong Kong’s much anticipated “water taxi” service came one step closer to reality today, with a local ferry firm winning a five-year contract to ply Victoria Harbour with the hop-on-hop-off ferries.
Fortune Ferry Company Ltd will offer a water taxi line from West Kowloon to Central, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Hung Hom and Kai Tak; and a direct ferry service between Central and Hung Hom. The company may offer direct shuttles between the various spots, depending on passenger demand.
The Central/Hung Hom route will begin in Q2 and the water taxi service in Q4, the government says.
Fortune already operates two local ferry routes: between Kwun Tong and North Point, running half-hourly from approximately 7am to 7pm, and Tuen Mun – Tung Chung – Sha Lo Wan – Tai O, with seven sailings from Tuen Mun.
No pricing or other details for the new services are available yet: but according to the contract, Fortune must provide at least three sailings of the main route daily, one of which must depart from Kai Tak at or after 7pm “to allow passengers to enjoy the night view of Victoria Harbour”.
The West Kowloon water taxi will call at Yau Ma Tei Typhoon Shelter piers until the West Kowloon piers south of the new cultural centres are completed. From Central, the taxis will depart piers 8, 9 or 10, and passengers can jump on or off without pre-booking or buying tickets in advance.
The firm was one of only two to bid for the contract, according to the Transport Department (TD). Companies were required to bid not only for the two new harbour lines but also pledge “smart city” innovations including real-time departure/arrival information, the release of useful public data on data.gov.hk, and environmental improvements over existing diesel ferry services that spew black smoke across the city.
Commuter ferry traffic between Central and Hung Hom plummeted after the government relocated – to fierce public opposition – the Central Star Ferry pier from Edinburgh Place to a reclaimed site more than half a kilometre from Central MTR station. Star Ferry stopped operating both the Central and Wan Chai services to Hung Hom in 2011 when its contract expired and TD could find no takers for a new contract despite relaxing route requirements.
The water taxi idea was born in the Tourism Board’s 2017 Development Blueprint, a 72-initiative mishmash of policies and ideas, including the curious coinage “Leisure cum Tourism”, the hiring of Transport for London to create five “legible” signposts at a cost of HK$3 million and the resuscitation of the doomed Food Trucks scheme.
TD picked up the water taxi proposals in 2018 and found two companies willing to take part in a tender: both then entered competitive bids in December 2019, with Fortune emerging as the winner today.
Fortune is part of state-owned Chu Kong Shipping Enterprises (Group) Company Ltd, founded 1985, which runs Pearl River Delta routes from Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, the Macau ferry terminal in Shun Tak Centre, and SkyPier at Hong Kong International Airport.