sets on half of StarFerry's harbour services
EDT1,EDT3| EDT| By Dennis Eng and Simpson Cheung
South China Morning Post
Commuters and tourists have just
over six months left to cross the harbour via Hung Hom on the StarFerry,
before the company relinquishes half its celebrated routes.
Burdened by years of financial losses,
falling patronage, competition from rail operators and future harbourfront
redevelopment that will cost the ferry operator an estimated HK$10 million
a year until 2013, the StarFerry Company will let its three-year licence
for the two Hung Hom routes expire on March 31.
The decision not to renew the licence
after 11 years prompted the government to start inviting tenders for
the operation of ferry services on the two routes, one between Hung
Hom and Central and other between Hung Hom and Wan Chai.
StarFerry general manager Johnny
Leung Tak-hing did not close the door to the services completely, saying
the company would study the tender documents and see if the terms offered
were more favourable.
But it was hard to justify to shareholders
losing HK$10 million a year, Leung said.
Business is expected to suffer from
two years of construction on the TsimShaTsui pier bus terminal from
next year and the redevelopment of the Wan Chai pier, where the StarFerry
earns HK$3.3 million a year from two rooftop billboards.
Li Yun-keung, vice-chairman of the
StarFerry Company Limited Workers Union, said some 30 jobs would be
Even if a new company is willing
to take over the routes and employ all of them, who can guarantee that
the new company would not close after three years? Li said. On average,
3,200 people take the ferry between Hung Hom and Central a day, down
from about 3,800 before the Central pier was relocated in 2006.
The then 48-year-old pier in Central
was moved west from its prime location just opposite the Mandarin Oriental
Hotel to make way for a bypass linking Central and Wan Chai. The new
location is more isolated, with the International Finance Centre office
tower and shopping mall a sweaty stroll away in summer, and a trek to
the rest of Central taking even longer.
The number of passengers taking the
StarFerry between TsimShaTsui and Central has fallen 18 per cent to
some 40,000 a day on average.
Patronage on the two Wan Chai routes
was unaffected by the pier relocation, with an average of 20,000 a day
taking the StarFerry to and from TsimShaTsui.
Profits from the two franchised TsimShaTsui
routes are used by the StarFerry company to subsidise the loss-making
Hung Hom business.
Before the Central pier was relocated,
a lot of people took the ferry ... businessmen would just walk over
to Prince's Building to work. Now it's mostly tourists, Leung said.