The fabled green and white Star ferry service is one of few relics from Hong Kong's past to have survived the territory's modernisation.
But soon, the ferries will leave their downtown terminal and move to new premises on Hong Kong island, making way for land reclamation and construction of a road bypass.
Swish new terminals on either side of Victoria Harbour with shopping and dining facilities will make the ferries a bigger tourist attraction, says the government.
Residents are, however, up in arms and say the main ferry service between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon on the mainland will no longer be a convenient form of public transport.
"I won't take the ferry any more, it'll be too far. I'll have to take the MTR (underground railway) and that takes a lot longer," said Leo Lam, an accountant who now takes the nine-minute journey daily to work in Kowloon.
The ferries, established by a prominent Parsee businessman in the 1880s, rate as one of the territory's biggest tourist attractions, offering visitors the best view of one of the world's most spectacular harbours.
But locals make up 70 per cent of the 75,000 people who travel each day on the ferries, last year voted the city's most reliable form of public transport.
At rush hour, office workers stream off the boats, elbowing past leisurely tourists, on their way to work in the Central business district on Hong Kong Island.
Once the terminal moves 300 metres away however they face a 15-minute walk to work or connecting transport - a move that the Star Ferry Company estimates will cut passenger numbers by 13 percent.
On the Kowloon side, the government plans to relocate a bus terminus away from the ferry terminal and build landscaped gardens. That may attract more tourists but would cut passenger numbers by another 20 per cent or so, according to the Star Ferry company.
"On the Hong Kong side we'd like to stay where we are, the new terminal is out of the Central business district," said
Frankie Yick, managing director. "Hong Kong people are always in a rush, they want to get to places quickly."
Land reclamation has seen Victoria Harbour shrink in recent years and many people say it is spoiling the city's natural beauty and ruining its biggest natural asset, the harbour itself.
They lament the ferries' departure from their downtown location as the end of an era. Today, at HK$1.70 (around 12p) a ride on the lower deck, the cross-harbour trip is a rare bargain in one of the world's most expensive cities - partly because attempts to raise fares are routinely met with protests.
During widespread social unrest in the territory in 1966, a plan to raise the fare by just under 3p sparked four days of riots.
The ferry terminal on Hong Kong Island, once a waterfront landmark, is now dwarfed by skyscrapers and looks run down. Some ferries are 50 years old but that has not dimmed their appeal.
One Dutchman was so impressed by a ride on one that he opened a Star Ferry cafe in Amsterdam modelled on a replica green and white ferry.
As tourism has become an increasingly important contributor to the local economy, accounting for 6-8 percent of gross domestic product, the government is keen to build the ferries up as a tourist attraction.
The new terminals will house replicas of the clock towers at the existing terminals as well as floors of shopping and dining facilities, with a rooftop beer garden on the Kowloon side and a Star Ferry exhibition on the island side.
Revenue from those facilities will help subsidise the ferries. But Yick said fares might have to rise if passenger numbers drop too much.
One thing that won't change are the ferries themselves.
"No one would want that," said Mr Yick. "They are an icon."