Proposed ferry fare hikes of up to 100 per cent were preliminary, and operators are still in negotiations with the government, representatives from two ferry firms told an Islands District Council meeting on Monday.
On April 12, a Transport and Logistics Bureau document submitted to the legislature revealed that it was handling applications for fare increases from the city’s two government-subsidised ferry firms.
Operators of the routes between Central and Peng Chau, Central and Yung Shue Wan and Central and Sok Kwu Wan routes have applied for a 100 per cent fare increase. Operators of the Central to Cheung Chau and Central to Mui Wo routes are seeking a 45 per cent hike, while a 28.6 percent rise is sought for the routes connecting North Point, Kwun Tong and Kai Tak.
With ferries being the only transportation mode for the islands, concerned Lamma residents submitted a petition with 536 signatures opposing the increase to the District Council meeting, InMedia reported.
Caught off guard
The fare hike applications were submitted to the Transport and Logistics Bureau last September and October, according to a written reply sent by the two operators to the District Council meeting.
Anthea Chow, manager of corporate communications at Sun Ferry told the meeting that the fare proposals were revealed to the public prematurely: “The Transport and Logistics Bureau announced the preliminary fare increase earlier… without receiving any prior notice, we could not offer an explanation to each and every lawmaker in a timely manner.”
Sun Ferry, which operates routes to Cheung Chau, Mui Wo and between Hung Hom and North Point, said its proposal to increase fares by 45 per cent last year was made amid “increasing expenses, and decreasing income” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
April Lam, general manager of Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry (HKKF), said the fare hike calculation was based on statistics from the pandemic period, and the company was “caught a little off guard” when the government “suddenly announced the information.”
HKKF had asked to double its fares to and from Peng Chau and Lamma Island.
In its written reply to the council, the Transport Department said: “If the fare increase requested by the operators was too high, the Transport Department will lower the fare increase.”
‘Out of touch’
District councillors heavily criticised the proposed fare increase during the meeting.
Yu Hon-kwan, chair of the islands District Council, said the increase was “out of touch with reality” whilst Hongkongers were still reeling from the pandemic.
Lau Shun-ting, a member of the district advisory body said: “Nobody would live on the islands with the fare hikes.”
Petition organiser Chui Caan Jing Ching told HKFP on Wednesday that they were suggesting a cap of 10 per cent on fare hikes, “and we residents will certainly hold them accountable if the representatives don’t hold up to this bottom line.”
She added that HKKF was at fault for failing to react to the Covid-19 restrictions with lighter ferry schedules.
Since 2011, the government has been providing outlying ferry firms with Special Helping Measures subsidies for key routes, and launched the Vessel Subsidy Scheme in 2019. Under the two plans, the government allows the companies to reclaim various operating expenses, such as pier and vessel costs, and also helps them purchase new ferries.
However, the operators told the council meeting that the government did not provide any aid in terms of fuel and salaries, which comprised 70 per cent of their expenses. In fact, Sun Ferry received over HK$20.5 million in Covid-19 subsidies to cover 488 salaries during the pandemic, whilst the HKKF’s holding firm received over HK$10.1 million to subsidise 185 staff members’ salaries, according to government data compiled by Webb-site.com.
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