For most of the 200 people living on “the South Pole of Hong Kong”, as the Hong Kong Tourism Board calls the remote Po Toi Islands, the infrequent public hour-long public kaito ride is the only way to reach the city. But as the ferry licence is renewed, the government has rejected requests to increase the service level, claiming there’s no demand, and leaving residents stranded with an outdated timetable.
The Po Toi kaito operates just one round-trip on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, with two sailings on Saturdays. There’s also a kaito between Stanley on weekends: but Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays have no service at all.
Islands District Councillor Leung Kwok-ho says the scant service causes great inconvenience to residents. “If residents have something important to do in Hong Kong island on Wednesday, like having an appointment with a doctor, they cannot return to Po Toi the same night as there is no ferry service. They have to find accommodation in Hong Kong to spend a night and go back to Po Toi on Thursday,” he says.
With the ferry service licence up for renewal last month, Leung pressed for an increase in frequency, raising the issue at the last meeting of the Islands District Council Traffic & Transport Committee.
But Leung’s request was rejected outright, he says, along with a backup plea for a six-month trial of a daily service, with the Transport Department (TD) claiming the service demand remained low on weekdays.
TD says data supplied by the kaito operator Tsui Wah Ferry indicated that most of the ferry passengers are tourists and the most popular days are Sundays and public holidays. The ferry is usually only filled to 20% of its capacity on weekdays, it says. “The Transport Department has reviewed the operator’s licence renewal application based on its ferry service and the demand of the passengers, and had renewed their licence based on their application of maintaining the current frequency of the ferry service, taking effect on 1 June,” TD says in a statement.
Leung said the government should not only focus on profits but should consider the service that the ferry delivers. The District Councillor plans a meeting with TD, alongside veteran LegCo member Leung Yiu-chung, to reiterate that the Kai To ferry is the sole means of transport for those island residents. “It is a must for the Transport Department to take care of the residents and provide adequate service for them. The ferry should never be regarded as a means to entertain tourists, which is what the Transport Department sees the ferry service as now,” he says.
Leung also called for an investigation into ferry fares on the kaito service, which are exempt from the government public transport concession scheme. Under that scheme, elderly and people with disabilities would pay just $2, for example, to travel to and from outlying islands such as Lamma Island or Cheung Chau, but for Po Toi must pay full fare: HK$18 single, or HK$20 on Sundays and public holidays.
Po Toi was home to over 1,000 fisherfolk and their families in the 1960s, but the population has dwindled to around 200 as younger generations have moved into the city. Although the islands are renowned for their natural beauty and rugged rock formations, living conditions are unique, with no tap water or metered electricity. The government has repeatedly said it is looking at ways to modernise the water and power supply in this remote corner of Hong Kong.