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Pressure builds on troubled Skyrail operator

Chester Yung

Saturday, October 28, 2006


A lawmaker has called on the government to either take over or replace the operator of the Ngong Ping 360 cable car system, saying its frequent interruptions of service are hurting Hong Kong's tourism image.

The call by the Democratic Party's Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, chairman of the Legislative Council's transport panel, followed a four-hour service suspension Friday that affected more than 200 passengers.

It was the longest of eight suspensions that have been recorded since the new tourist attraction was opened on September 18.

"Public confidence in the Ngong Ping 360 cable car service is already at a red light," Cheng said.

"The government should seriously consider whether it needs to replace, or even take over the management, as the service has reached a level that is unacceptable to the public and to tourists."

Cheng said that should this situation continue, it would jeopardize the image of Hong Kong's tourism industry.

According to the operator, Skyrail- ITM, Friday's service disruption was due to a technical problem, the cause of which was still being investigated.

Secretary for Economic Development and Labour Stephen Ip Shu-kwan said the government had asked the company to submit a report to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department within seven days to explain the incident.

"We asked the company to conduct a thorough review and a complete inspection of the system. They need to explain to us why these suspensions are happening so frequently," Ip
said.

He said Skyrail has been operating for just over a month and despite the service interruptions had recorded a 90 percent usage. He also agreed it would take time to improve the service.

But, he said, the government could not accept the frequent breakdowns in service and that the MTR Corp, which owns the system, had ultimate responsibility to ensure the smoothness of Skyrail's operation

Meanwhile, the company has distributed an apology, in English only, to the affected passengers, saying they would receive a free return ticket as compensation, valid until the end of March 2007.

The HK$950 million Ngong Ping 360 project is a 5.7-kilometer cable car linking Tung Chung with the Big Buddha at Ngong Ping, and includes a stop at Hong Kong International Airport.

However, since June, there have been a number of stoppages that have caught the attention of the media.

In June, a two-hour stoppage caused the postponement of the attraction's opening, which had been set for later that month. After a three-month delay, mainly due to technical glitches, Skyrail got off the ground on September 18.

It was also reported at the time that the operator was plagued by an exodus of senior executives, mainly from the company's finance, public relations, maintenance, leasing, retail and purchasing units.


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