Thousands take advantage of free ferry service to escape town cut off by Hong Kong protests

Kinling Lo

More than a thousand Hongkongers took advantage of a free government ferry service on Saturday morning to travel between Tai Po and Wu Kai Sha after three days of traffic deadlock because of protests at Chinese University.

With more than 400 people already queuing at the Wu Kai Sha pier at 8.30am, speedboat operators took the opportunity for the extra business with those who did not want to wait for a free ride courtesy of the Home Affairs Department.

“One hundred dollars for one, we will go once we have 10 people!” a speedboat operator shouted to the queue. It only took five minutes for him to fill the boat.

The free service was announced on Friday night, three days after intense scuffles between anti-government protesters and police broke out at the campus on Tuesday.

Those who didn’t want to wait for a ferry paid enterprising speedboat owners for a ride. Photo: Kinling Lo

Major roads and part of the railway were blocked and vandalised, causing difficulty for people to get in or out of the New Territories, leaving places such as Tai Po in semi-isolation. Restaurants and supermarkets also ran on low supplies.

In addition to ferry services, the government offered free shuttle buses between Tai Po waterfront pier and Tai Po MTR station. Both services will operate until 7pm on Saturday.

Hilda Chow, a 60-year old Tai Po resident, said her life had been disturbed by the traffic chaos of the past week.

“I tried to see a doctor on Thursday, and found that the clinic was closed because the doctor was unable to come in to Tai Po,” Chow said.

“Then I wanted to get cash from ATMs, but I had checked over 5 ATMs and they all ran out of money, so I really have to go out today.”

Roads reopen and residents remove barricades as uneasy calm hangs over city

However, the long wait times for a ferry meant not everyone was happy with the arrangement.

Rebecca, 57, who has worked in a home for the elderly in Tai Po for a decade, said she had been cycling for two hours from Sha Tin to her workplace for three days and was delighted when she first learnt about the ferry.

“I came with the hope that I could go to work more conveniently, I am exhausted from cycling!” she said. “It took me two hours every day just to cycle to work and another two to cycle back.

“But I have been waiting for 45 minutes and it already took me 30 minutes just to come from Sha Tin to the pier. So at the end it’s not much faster.”

According to a Home Affairs Department employee on site, there were two ferries going back and forth from the two piers, with one carrying at most 240 people and the other one fewer.

Mr and Mrs Ho, a couple in their 70s, left the queue in Wu Kai Sha after waiting for 30 minutes. They had been planning to go to Lo Wu MTR station so they could cross into mainland China.

“We are just going to our hometown in Qingyuan city in Guangdong. Well … I don’t have to go today, and the wait is too long I now have no mood to go now,” Mr Ho said.

The ferry service proved so popular that people had a long wait to get a seat. Photo: Kinling Lo

A 30-year old man called To, said he was in no rush to go to work at a construction site in Tai Po.

“My bosses will probably be unhappy about it, but there’s not much I can do,” the Wong Tai Sin resident said. “I understand why protesters are so angry, I am not angry that they blocked the roads. It’s more interesting to see so many people keen on going to work.”

After news filtered through that the Tolo Highway, a major road linking Tai Po to Sha Tin, had reopened around a dozen people left the queue in Wu Kai Sha immediately, and said they would take the bus instead.

By noon, only 50 people were waiting for the ferry in Wu Kai Sha. Drivers of speedboats lowered the price of their boat trips to HK$60 as a result.

This article Thousands take advantage of free ferry service to escape town cut off by Hong Kong protests first appeared on South China Morning Post

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