Sun sets on half of StarFerry's harbour services
2010-09-11 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 at risk.

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.

(上次更新: 2010-10-10)

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