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Chief Executive Announces extension of ferry subsidy scheme in Policy Address

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In her annual Policy Address on Wednesday, October 16, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced that the Special Helping Measures (SHM) that have been applied to six outlying ferry routes since 2011 will be extended to a further eight ferry routes. One of these eight routes is the Discovery Bay-Central ferry.

The Policy Address is the key document that outlines the government’s programme for the upcoming legislative term. Lam was forced to record the Address and release it through video, a first for Policy Addresses, as interruptions from Pan-Democrats twice forced Lam to leave the Chamber of the Legislative Council (LegCo). The Address was widely seen as an attempt to restore calm to the city after 19 straight weeks of protests and violence by addressing economic concerns. Lam also mentioned in the Address that the government would replace the entire fleets of 11 of the ferry routes with “greener vessels,” starting in 2021.

Currently the SHM scheme partially subsidises the major ferry routes to locations on Outyling Islands that are either entirely or largely inaccessible by any other route. The government subsidises these routes by reimbursing “certain expenses associated with the operation of the ferry services” which do not include fuel or staff costs.

Out of the eight ferry routes currently not subsidised by the SHM scheme, the Discovery Bay-Central route has the largest daily ridership. Statistics produced by the LegCo Panel on Transport show that in 2015 an average of 11,707 passengers used the ferry everyday. In comparison, the two next largest routes not covered are the Ma Wan-Central and the Tuen Mun–Tung Chung–Sha Lo Wan–Tai O routes, which saw average riderships of 3,039 passengers and 1,102 passengers respectively. The Discovery Bay route is the second-most popular route overall; the most popular being the subsidised Cheung-Central route with a daily average ridership of 26,315 in 2015.

The decision to include the DB-Central route has been received positively in DB, by both residents and the Discovery Bay Transportation Services Limited (DBTPL) alike. DBTPL and DB residents have petitioned the government to include the ferry route since the SHM’s inception in 2011. The inclusion has also raised questions about future plans for the ferry service. When announcing their updated proposal to replace the overnight ferry service with buses in June,  DBTPL listed the ferry route being “unfairly excluded from the Government’s Special Helping Measures ferry subsidy scheme” as a “hardship to sustaining [the] ferry operation.” Residents are now wondering if Lam’s announcement will have any bearing on DBTPL’s proposal for the overnight bus service.

While Lam has announced the inclusion of the ferries in her Address, it will be some time before the changes take place. In a statement DBTTPL released they day of the Address, the company said that the route would be included in the scheme “subject to the LegCo funding approval next year,” as the budget of the scheme is approved every three years, and the current period ends in 2020.  In the meantime, DBTPL have said they “will study the details of the scheme and review its financial and operational implications for the long-term sustainability of the DB ferry’s service.”

For the LegCo Panel on Transport paper on the 2017-2020 license period, click here.

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