LCQ12: "Central - Cheung Chau" ferry services
In recent years, there has been a constant stream of tourists flocking to Cheung Chau. For example, as many as 60 000 people visited Cheung Chau on the first day of the Easter holidays this year. Quite a number of Cheung Chau residents have relayed to me that as the ferries plying the Central - Cheung Chau route are always full during peak hours and long holidays, they often have to wait for several ferries before they can board, which has caused great distress to them. Moreover, the hygiene conditions of the ferries are poor. Those Cheung Chau residents have therefore suggested that the authorities implement measures to separate residents and non-residents for ferry boarding so as to facilitate their travel to and from Cheung Chau. They have also pointed out that Cheung Chau Pier needs to be expanded to cater for the large number of passengers, and the places near the pier have to be replanned in order to alleviate the situation of tourists and bicycles competing for road space. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows the monthly patronage of the Central - Cheung Chau ferry route in the past five years;
(2) of the number of complaints, received by the authorities in each month of the past five years, about the ferry services of the Central - Cheung Chau route, with a breakdown by the content of the complaints (e.g. low frequency of ferry trips and poor hygiene conditions of the ferries);
(3) as this year's Christmas holidays will arrive soon, of the measures the authorities will put in place to avoid the recurrence of the problem of Cheung Chau residents and tourists scrambling for taking a ferry ride during holidays; the long-term measures to ensure that Cheung Chau residents can travel by ferry to and from Cheung Chau during holidays without hassle;
(4) whether the authorities will consider the aforesaid suggestion of separate ferry boarding; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(5) whether the authorities have plans in the coming five years to expand Cheung Chau Pier to increase the number of berths for ferries, and to replan the cycle parking area near the pier; if they have such plans, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
At present, the "Central - Cheung Chau" route is operated by the New World First Ferry Services Limited (NWFF). According to the operator's records, the average daily patronage of the "Central - Cheung Chau" route (two-way) during the Easter holidays this year (i.e. March 25-28) was around 43 000 passenger trips, which was higher than the patronage on weekdays. Similar situation was also recorded during the Easter holidays in the past few years, although the patronage varied each year. For the Easter holidays this year, the NWFF provided a total of 81 additional sailings (two-way) to accommodate additional passengers, representing an increase of 26 per cent in ferry services when compared with the original scheduled frequency. Although there were situations where fast ferry services were full during the peak hours, passengers who could not board on that ferry were able to board the next ferry. In addition, the Transport Department (TD) conducted on-site surveys during various long holidays (including the Ching Ming Festival, Labour Day and Cheung Chau Bun Festival) and weekends in the summer vacation this year. Findings of the surveys show that the NWFF did provide additional services to meet passenger demand during holidays. During the busiest hours, ferries were arranged to carry passengers to/from Cheung Chau at an interval of around 15 minutes on average. Although there were situations where fast ferry services were full during the peak hours, passengers who could not board on that ferry were able to board the next ferry. Therefore, the services of that route can generally meet the passenger demand.
My responses to various parts of the question raised by the Hon Kenneth Lau are as follows:
(1) to (4) The monthly patronage of the "Central - Cheung Chau" route between 2011 and 2015 is at Annex 1.
Public transport services are open to members of the public. Under normal circumstances, the order of public transport boarding is based on passengers' queuing sequence instead of their place of residence. However, the Government notices that the pattern of passenger demand for the "Central - Cheung Chau" ferry services is relatively special, where the passenger demand during holidays is usually about 30 per cent higher than that on weekdays and about 50 per cent of such demand clusters during the peak hours. It is indeed inconvenient for local residents who always need to travel between Cheung Chau and Central during holidays, particularly those heading to work.
At present, the NWFF provides monthly tickets as a choice for frequent passengers of the "Central - Cheung Chau" ferry services. This fare type brings about convenience and fare concession for passengers who need to travel between Cheung Chau and Central frequently, thereby best meeting the needs of Cheung Chau residents. In response to local requests and after discussions with relevant departments and the operator, the TD has proposed to provide monthly ticket passages on a trial basis for fast ferry service at the Cheung Chau Ferry Pier and Central Pier No. 5 on specified holidays. The arrangement will be reviewed after one year. Specifically, the NWFF will carry out software modification for one of the Octopus turnstiles at the turnstile gate for fast ferry service of the two mentioned piers. This will allow the turnstile to switch to one for exclusive use by monthly ticket holders on specified days and switch back to its existing mode for use by passengers with any ticket type on ordinary days. Moreover, railings and queuing facilities will be added at the two piers. Passenger using the monthly ticket passages can go straight to the passenger waiting area through the monthly ticket turnstiles. The monthly ticket passages can by and large cover those people heading to work who are affected by the special situation where the patronage is of a high level and clustered on holidays. Having consulted the Islands District Council, the TD will discuss the implementation details with the operator along the direction of implementing the monthly ticket passages during all weekends and public holidays.
The TD has already requested the NWFF to commence the necessary software upgrading of its fare system for the implementation of the monthly ticket passages so that the proposal can be put in place as soon as possible. Initially, NWFF expects that the software upgrading work will take 9 to 12 months to complete and the monthly ticket passages are expected to be available for use in the second half of 2017. In the meantime, with long holidays for this Christmas and the coming Easter included, the TD will, as in the past, request the NWFF to deploy spare vessels for providing additional sailings where resources permit, to meet passenger needs. Furthermore, the TD will request the NWFF to deploy additional staff to maintain order at the piers, and will also ask the police to step up patrol outside the Cheung Chau Ferry Pier and the Central Pier No. 5 and maintain the queuing order there when necessary.
Starting from August 2015, passengers travelling to and from Cheung Chau may also make use of the "Aberdeen - Cheung Chau" licensed ferry services provided by the Maris Ferry Service Limited, having regard to their own needs.
Figures on complaints received by the TD over the past five years in relation to the ferry services of "Central - Cheung Chau" route are at Annex 2. For a breakdown by the content of the complaints as requested by the Hon Lau, as it will take some time for retrieving and preparing such information, we will separately revert to the Legislative Council when the TD completes the data compilation work.
(5) The Government carried out comprehensive renovation and improvement works for the Cheung Chau Ferry Pier in 2015. The works include altering partitions inside the pier to expand the passenger waiting area, installing additional ventilation systems and constructing cantilevered shelter outside the pier. Meanwhile, we also note that the usage of the Cheung Chau Ferry Pier has indeed risen in recent years. In particular, there have been more tourists using the pier during weekends and public holidays. The TD, in collaboration with other departments, will conduct a preliminary study on the need to enhance the Cheung Chau Ferry Pier through expansion or other suitable options.
In 2013, the TD provided about 400 additional bicycle parking spaces at places available around the Cheung Chau Ferry Pier. The TD notes that residents of Cheung Chau have high demand for bicycle parking spaces, and will continue to look for suitable sites, such as those slightly away from the Cheung Chau Ferry Pier, for provision of more bicycle parking spaces. The TD will also consider other measures for providing more bicycle parking spaces, such as changing the existing single-deck bicycle parking spaces into double-deck ones to increase the overall number of bicycle parking spaces. Double-deck bicycle parking racks are now being put on trial in some areas of the New Territories. The trial is expected to complete early next year. If the outcome is satisfactory, the TD will consider using double-deck bicycle parking racks in other areas including Cheung Chau.
Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:15
Issued at HKT 15:15