Hong Kong’s iconic Star Ferry was one of the many businesses in the city hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A popular tourist attraction and the choice of commute for many Hongkongers, the white-and-green vessels faced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic as visitors deserted the city due to strict travel curbs, including flight bans, and testing, vaccination, and quarantine requirements.
In a bid to recover from financial turmoil, Star Ferry ships will increase their fares by more than 50 per cent in April, an adjustment that was approved by the Executive Council on Tuesday.
From April 3, ferry journeys connecting Tsim Sha Tsui with Central and Wan Chai will cost HK$5 for an adult on weekdays and HK$6.5 on weekends and public holidays.
The price of a monthly ticket will also go up from HK$160 to HK$190, and free rides for the elderly will be replaced with HK$2 concessionary fares.
Too little too late?
For university students Anthony and Ben, the increase means it will cost around the same for them board the ferry to cross the harbour as it does to take the MTR with a student discount.
However, the pair said they would continue to opt for the sea crossing.
“It is more convenient for me as I can just walk to the pier after disembarking from the ferry from Mui Wo,” said Ben.
One man, who has lived in the city for 28 years and did not give his name, said while he was not bothered by the price rise as he would benefit from the elderly concession, he thought it might not be enough save the Star Ferry.
“I fear that, contrary to Star Ferry’s hope [of] increasing its revenue, that this may, in fact, deter people from using Star Ferry and drive more people to use the MTR because the fare is then [a] little less than half the MTR fare from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui,” he said.
The walk from the pier to the Central MTR station could be off putting for many Hongkongers, he added.
The Star Ferry pier in Central is a 10-minute walk from the MTR station. The distance was roughly doubled after the Edinburgh Place Ferry Pier, where the boats uses to dock, was demolished in 2006 to make way for land reclamation.
Justin, who takes the ferry daily for his commute, said that while the increase would not be too much of an additional burden for him, the company would need more than commuters to keep the ferries running.
“It would be better if there were tourists,” Justin said.
Mrs Cheng and her son took the Star Ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui on Wednesday to meet with a relative for lunch. Calling the upcoming price increase “reasonable,” Cheng said that she did not think it would help the company much.
“It is not a big increase, it will be of limited help,” said Cheng.
According to the Star Ferry, it had HK$66 million in debt in the first half of last year, and the services between Central and Tsim Sha Tsiu and Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui had recorded a loss of over HK$20 million in that period.
In addition to Covid travel restrictions, the company said that ferry services faced “further marginalisation” by the extension of the MTR East Rail line, which opened last May and saw the route extended beneath Victoria Harbour.
With the Hong Kong government launching a new scheme to attract tourists, and the scrapping of most Covid-19 travel restrictions and social-distancing rules, it remains to be seen whether the Star Ferry’s future is plain sailing.
Support HKFP | Code of Ethics | Error/typo? | Contact Us | Newsletter | Transparency & Annual Report