Fed up with being stuck in constant traffic jams, one Tuen Mun resident has revived a 20-year-old ferry concept that could see Tuen Mun and Central once again linked by boat.
Benny Ho Siu-kin, with think tank 香港公共交通智庫 (Public Transport Think Tank of Hong Kong), says the commute from Tuen Mun has become unbearable, with daily traffic accidents, congestion, illegal parking and roadworks. He’s opened a consultation for his think tank to discuss how a ferry might offer Tuen Mun and Gold Coast residents a better option.
“People are attracted to the ferry idea because of the traffic jams, but the problem is, we don’t all agree on how it should be run,” says Ho. Price and accessibility will be the sticking points, he says.
“We are thinking for just a rush-hour service for commuters – but the cost would be around $35-40, compared with the 962 bus which is only $19,” he says, estimating the price based on other high-speed ferry services such as the Discovery Bay and Mui Wo routes. The key question to take forward, says Ho, is whether there is demand for such a service at that price.
Ferry services, particularly outlying island routes, are heavily subsidised by the government – in September the government said ferry operators have been “struggling to stay financially afloat”, with the operators of the six major island routes collectively due to make a loss of HK$700 million from 2021-2026 under current licence terms. Without the hefty government subsidy, operators would need to raise ferry fares by around 40%.
Ho says subsidies might be difficult in the current political climate, particularly when a key contender for the route would be a mainland state-owned firm. “We think there will be a lot of political problems with that,” he laments. “The district council sometimes thinks more about the politics than the people.”
But if the financials can be worked out, and Ho’s group can show sufficient demand, the new ferry could slash journey times. Right now, the bus to Admiralty takes more than an hour during peak times, or 45 minutes off-peak, while a ferry could make the trip in 40 minutes flat, estimates Ho, congestion free. The think tank member, who works for an investment bank by day, envisions a single-deck fast boat, carrying around 80 to 100 people. “A double decker would be too slow for Tuen Mun, it’s too far and you need a faster boat,” he said.
But Ho also points out that ferry journey times are now burdened by reclamation and development that has pushed ferry piers further out from business districts. “The pier in Central is near IFC, it’s quite far from Central Station now, so you need a long walk,” he says. As such, Ho’s group is also assessing whether commuters further from the ferry piers at either end – for example, residents from north Tuen Mun or workers in Causeway Bay – would use the service.
Ho is currently gauging members’ views, and hopes to generate a proposal for government and district councillors within a month.
Tuen Mun – then Castle Peak – had been served by a Hong Kong Island-bound ferry since at least the 1960s, operated by Hongkong and Yaumati Ferry Co, with almost 8,000 passengers a day at its peak. The ferries ran from Jubilee Street Pier, a central pier with frontage from Gilman Street to Pottinger Street, lost to 1994 reclamation.
In 1999, Shun Tak Ferries took on the licence (unopposed) under a three-year service agreement meant to run until 2002: but in April 2000 Shun Tak requested to drop the service, citing heavy losses. According to the government, passenger numbers dropped 75% between 1998 and 2000, to about 1,100 a day, after the opening of Highway Route 3 and the Ting Kau Bridge. No company had responded to a fresh invitation to tender for the route, said the government at its eventual closure in July 2000.