Star Ferry told to find other revenue streams

The operator of the Star Ferry should seek to increase the company's revenue by other means, such as advertisement services on the boats' exterior and renting the vessels for local tours, a lawmaker said.

Ben Chan Han-pan, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, made the suggestion a day after the operator of the Tsim Sha Tsui-Central and Tsim Sha Tsui-Wan Chai ferries applied to authorities to double the fares to HK$8.4 per journey.

Speaking on radio yesterday, Chan said fewer tourists have been visiting Hong Kong due to the Covid epidemic, and that the ferry operator has been recording losses as a result.

According to a paper by the Legislative Council's panel on transport, the Star Ferry's daily average patronage dropped to 10,700 passengers in March, from around 53,900 passengers in 2018.

Chan said the government should consider whether the fare hike could be counterproductive, adding that higher fares could deter passengers and cause a further decrease in passenger volume.

He said the government should step in to assist the ferry operator in boosting its non-farebox revenue.

"The government could consider helping the ferry operator by renovating the pier to attract merchants and by allowing advertising on the ferries and at the pier," said Chan, adding that the Tourism Board needs to establish an international brand.

He added that the ferry operator could charge tourists and locals differently.

When asked whether the government would prefer to take back operating rights, Chan said that option would have to be studied in detail, as it would involve major changes in transportation policies dictating that public transport services should be run by the private sector.

The Star Ferry is owned by property company Wharf Real Estate Investment, which operates the ferry on a 15-year franchise granted by the government, set to expire in March 2033.

Roundtable lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said he supports the fare hike, as taking the ferry would still be around 40 percent cheaper than taking the MTR or a cross-harbor bus.

But while he voiced his support for fare hikes for one-way tickets, he proposed leaving the monthly ticket fare as it is, rejecting the ferry operator's proposal to double the monthly ticket fare from HK$160 to HK$320.

He said maintaining the monthly ticket fare of HK$160 would rehabilitate the operator's financial woes, while serving grassroots workers who go to work across the harbor on a daily basis, as the monthly ticket would be 30 percent cheaper than on the MTR.

"This is the best solution," he said.