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Pier relocation spells gloom, says Star Ferry

Leslie Kwoh

Saturday, May 13, 2006

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Star Ferry says the outlook remains bleak for its new ferry terminal in Central, scheduled to open mid-July, as the company faces the prospect of losing more than a third of its passengers.

"We are under huge financial stress right now, so we're looking for all possible alternatives," said Frankie Yick Chi-ming, Star Ferry managing director.

Speaking Friday at the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, Yick said the relocation of the pier to the area behind the International Finance Center 2 means commuters will have to walk an additional 200 meters each way.

According to a survey commissioned by the company last year, the extra distance could dissuade as many as 13 percent of regular passengers. In addition, the government has proposed relocating the bus terminal at Tsim Sha Tsui ferry terminal and turning the area into a public plaza, taking away the pier's most important transport link.

The company estimates that the move, projected to be completed in 2007, could discourage another 20 percent of commuters.

Yick could not ascertain Friday whether the potential losses could put the company out of business.

According to the 2004 annual report, however, Star Ferry carried a total of 27 million passengers or a daily average of 74,000 - amounting to about HK$50 million in fare receipts.

Losing a third of its passengers would be equivalent to a HK$17 million loss per annum - enough to place the company's franchised services HK$7 million in the red.

To help offset the potential losses, the company has commissioned a local architectural firm to ensure the new terminal will be a "public destination." The building facade will consist of a clock tower - a replica of the clock on the terminal now in use, said to be donated by the king of Belgium - flanked by two shorter pavilions.

The building will also include an additional third-floor public viewing deck with panoramic views of the land and harbor, an art exhibition gallery and a fine-dining area.

And in front of the terminal, the government's controversial groundscraper proposal - linking Statue Square to the new terminal - would make the walk more convenient and enjoyable for commuters, Yick said.

Despite the remodeling, Yick said the ferry operator is facing a bigger crisis as water transport may soon be outdated.

Although the Star Ferry nabbed top billing for choice of transport in a 2005 public opinion survey, Yick said he felt more people have begun to choose efficiency over aesthetics.

"Since the Cross Harbour Tunnel was built, people see the ferry as supplementary to the MTR. They'll take the ferry if they're not in a hurry," he said.

"And unlike buses, we can't go pick passengers up. They must come to the pier."


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