Hong Kong’s new water taxi service sullies the name of water taxis and should be properly labelled a “tourist boat”, says District Councillor and CEO of Designing Hong Kong Paul Zimmerman, as government papers reveal the first concrete details of the service since the contract was awarded last month.
According to a Transport Department (TD) LegCo brief, the new service, tendered to a subsidiary of state-owned Chu Kong Shipping Enterprises (Group), will run just three times a day during the week and will cost HK$136 for adults (HK$68 for children) for the whole 110-minute route. There will be four sailings at weekends. The 130-seat boats, sailing from Kai Tak to West Kowloon via Central, will feature on-board photographers, a trilingual audio guide service and, according to the TD brief, “large windows”.
“It’s ridiculous,” says Zimmerman, “it’s an expensive ferry.”
Zimmerman had several years ago proposed a new water taxi approach based around the chartered kai tos that ply Hong Kong’s ship anchorages, typhoon shelters and piers. A typical kai to costs around HK$700-800 an hour for up to 14 passengers.
Because such vessels are chartered and can’t directly take fare-paying passengers, Zimmerman had proposed an Uber-style booking app to match customers with charter routes. Lawyers had confirmed the concept was legally sound, he says, avoiding the issue of charter boats taking fare-paying passengers by having the app company contract the boat service and consolidate all the fare payments.
“We put that to TD but they didn’t want to go for it,” he says, claiming that TD was quite vague about its plans when questioned. “And now, all the truth comes out,” he says.
As a long-time advocate of water taxi services and better use of the harbour for transport, Zimmerman says he won’t fight the new service. “I say great, you want to organise a tourist ferry, with 130 seats around the harbour, then call it a tourist ferry… that’s a tourist attraction, not a water taxi. Now, give us a water taxi!”
The government also released details of the new Central to Hung Hom ferry route that will open on 28 June, operated by the same company. The fare for the 18-minute trip will be HK$9 (up from HK$6.30 when the service last ran in 2011) and bicycles can be carried for HK$14. The new service will be relatively infrequent – every 30-50 minutes after 8.30am, and every 40-50 minutes on Sundays and Public Holidays, although it will run at 20-minute intervals from 7.30am to 8.30am Monday to Saturdays.