Star Ferry plans HK$20 bike fee Charge on Wan Chai-Tsim Sha Tsui route angers cyclists, who say it goes against ‘green’ policies
Ada Lee, Dec 12, 2011
Cyclists Martin Turner and Nick Andrew rolled their bicycles onto the lower deck of a Star ferry at Wan Chai, after paying the foot-passenger fare of HK$2.50 each. They parked them to one side and sat down on a bench.
“It’s nice to enjoy the harbour,” said Turner, a marketing consultant who commutes on his bike and takes it onto a ferry several times a week.
But that will soon change. Star Ferry plans to charge passengers HK$20 for each bike they bring on board the Wan Chai-Tsim Sha Tsui route – the only cross-harbour route that carries bicycles.
The proposed rise from nothing to HK$20 has angered cyclists, who say it goes against the company’s vision of being environmentally friendly, and the government policy of promoting “green” traffic.
The new charge is part of Star Ferry’s plans to raise fares on routes connecting Tsim Sha Tsui with Wan Chai and Central.
In less than a week, the Hong Kong Cycling Alliance, which has a core membership of 200, has gathered more than 600 signatures on a letter against the proposed fare rise. The alliance thinks ferries should carry bicycles for free, Turner said, although it would be acceptable if the bike fare was similar to that for foot passengers – as it is on routes operated by other ferry companies that allow bicycles on board.
The ferry is the only way to take a bike across the harbour from Tsim Sha Tsui to Hong Kong Island without using a motor vehicle.
The HK$20 fare would mean two people would pay HK$90, including their bikes, on a round trip across the harbour – and even more after passenger fares go up by 20 to 60 HK cents on that route.
Turner said many cyclists would opt for a taxi instead.
“But we don’t want to make enemies of the ferries. We want to be friends of the ferries. We try very hard to engage with the Star Ferry to share a view of how Hong Kong can have a lively ferry environment again.”
Bikes have been allowed on board for free during non-peak hours on the cross-harbour route since 2003. Each ferry can carry 10 bikes at most. Star Ferry said it was a trial project; it charged HK$13 for each bike on the two Hung Hom routes before they closed in April.
Since the Hung Hom routes were shut down, passengers bringing bicycles to and from Tsim Sha Tsui have increased from several per week to 46 per day on average, Star Ferry said.
In response to South China Morning Post’s inquiries, the Star Ferry said the HK$20 was not enough to cover costs, as extra staff were deployed to “man the lower-deck gangplank to ensure the safety of the cyclists”.
Turner cast a sceptical eye on the six employees on the lower deck, who were either sitting on empty benches or chatting with colleagues. Turner and Andrew were the only passengers with bikes on the ferry.
“There’s no obvious need for an extra person,” he said. “They’re just bikes. They won’t bite.”
Turner said Star Ferry should treat the situation as a chance to create a new transport network. “As bikes use the harbourfront and the ferries to cross the harbour, they are creating a network,” he said. “The ferry companies can benefit from it.
“We should see a future in Hong Kong that is not dependent on carrying people in metal boxes on wheels. There are other ways to live with our harbour.”