A worker enjoys an illegal cigarette break on the Tsim Sha Tsui pier. Star Ferry says it has limited revenue growth potential: observers say the firm has let the service rot.

Star Ferry plans to double all cross-harbour fares, according to a document presented to LegCo’s Transport Panel this week, putting the weekend bicycle fare at more than double the cost of driving a private car through the Cross Harbour Tunnel.

The bicycle surcharge for the Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui route, which must be paid on top of a single fare, will double from $16 to $32, making a weekday adult crossing $38.4 and a holiday or weekend crossing $40.4.

A private car trip through the Cross-Harbour Tunnel is $20 while a cross-harbour MTR ride (with free bicycle carriage) is $10.1.

Members of the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance (HKCAll) reacted strongly to the news, with some claiming Star Ferry now had the most expensive bike surcharge in the world.

“Costing more to take a bike on a boat than to drive a car through the tunnel beneath it is ridiculous” said one member on the group’s Facebook page.

Martin Turner, HKCAll chairman, said he planned to engage with the firm to “try to knock some sense into this situation. […] I enjoy the journey and put it up with it costing more than MTR, But something like $30+ is laughable,” he wrote.

The bicycle surcharge was introduced in 2012, with strong objections from the bike community at the time.

The firm only allows bicycles on the Wan Chai-Tsim Sha Tsui ferry at ill-defined “non-peak” hours, while bikes are banned from the Central-Tsim Sha Tsui route.

In the UK, by contrast, bikes are welcome and free on many ferries and hovercraft, while even long-distance ferries to France and Ireland generally offer foot passenger bike carriage for surcharges of around GBP10 ($92).

Wharf Real Estate Investment Company, which owns Star Ferry as well as landmark Hong Kong properties Times Square, Harbour City and The Murray, posted an operating profit of $4.4 billion in the first half of 2022.

But the Star Ferry service lost $37 million in 2021, papers submitted to LegCo reveal, with the company claiming its revenue growth potential is limited.

The company launched a publicity campaign earlier this year with executives claiming the iconic ferry service was at risk of failing without some form of bailout.

Under Star Ferry’s new plans, the firm has also proposed to kill free trips for the elderly, double the adult standard ticket to $6.4 or $8.4 on weekends and holidays, and double child fares and disabled passengers to $3.8 or $5 at weekends. Elderly would either pay the child fare or use a concessionary Octopus for a government-subsidised $2 fare.

Wharf’s website currently promotes its free Star Ferry elderly rides under a “Caring Company” headline, claiming to be “the 1st and only public transport operator that offers free rides for senior citizens aged 65+”.

Star Ferry and Wharf declined to answer questions.

The fare hike will be discussed by LegCo’s Transport Panel on Friday 25 November.

Transport Panel chairman Frankie Yick Chi-ming is a non-executive director at Wharf (Holdings), the ultimate parent of Wharf businesses in Hong Kong, as well as a non-remunerated director at Star Ferry’s holding company and a non-remunerated director at Star Ferry itself.

Wharf’s franchise to run Star Ferry was renewed in 2018, with promises from the firm to upgrade service quality. The franchise runs until 31 March, 2033.

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