Chiu Luen Public Light Bus is facing a backlash after it secured a restraining order from the court to stop protesters from occupying roads in the shopping district of Mong Kok.
Now the minibus operator has its hands full trying to fend off complaints that it is committing the same illegal activity, occupying Tung Choi Street in the same district for parking. It is reported that Chiu Luen’s minibuses were using three of the four lanes on Tung Choi Street as parking area without authorization from the transport department.
The complaints may start hurting its business. Internet activist group Passion Times reported that at least one of its minibuses received a parking ticket from a traffic warden in Mong Kok on Monday morning.
Chiu Luen’s role in spurring police to clear the protest sites in Mong Kok has placed it on the other side of the pro-democracy campaign. As a result, calls for commuters to boycott its routes are spreading on social media, and many Occupy supporters are joining the campaign. One netizen said he would rather walk than ride on a Chiu Luen minibus.
As one of the oldest minibus associations in Hong Kong, Chiu Luen has seen a thriving business plying the routes from Mong Kok to Kwun Tong, Tsz Wan Shan and To Kwa Wan. On average, a minibus driver has to pay around HK$2,000 (US$258) a month if they want to join any of its lines, according to Apple Daily reports.
The operator’s route income, as it is called, could reach as high as HK$800,000 a month for some popular routes such as Mong Kok to Yuen Long.
Reports said Chiu Luen’s income wasn’t really affected by the Occupy campaign. In fact, traffic along the routes improved because of less congested thoroughfares in Mong Kok and more passengers were going to the area to join the protest campaign or were switching from double-decker to minibus as their means of transport.
In its application for a restraining order, the minibus operator said that the street occupation was hurting the business of minibus operators as well as drivers and passengers.
But the fact is, Chiu Luen has been charging the same “management fee” during the Occupy period.
So why is Chiu Luen against the pro-democracy campaign? It is said that officials of the minibus operators are close to the organizers of the Anti-Occupy Central Alliance.
Chiu Luen was founded in 1968 by a group of minibus drivers who came from Chiu Chow in eastern Guangdong province. The association now has a fleet of over 100 minibuses with 300 drivers.
Unlike the green minibus, Chiu Luen’s red minibus lines offer non-scheduled services.
The minibus industry often criticizes the government for setting too many restricted zones that only apply to minibuses, and complains that minibus drivers are always ticketed for illegal stopping and parking in these restricted areas.
Chiu Luen would often represent the industry to negotiate with the government. Sometimes, it would even organize strikes to press its demands. Such actions have prompted authorities to look the other way when minibuses are illegally parked, sources say.
Although the practice is illegal, red minibuses have been parking on Tung Choi Street for decades, according to one Chiu Luen driver.
The public light bus or minibus service became legal as a result of the 1967 Hong Kong riots.
At the time, workers of China Motor Bus and Kowloon Motor Bus went on strike, crippling public transport in the city. As no buses and trams were plying the streets, the minibuses entered the scene.
In the early days of their operations, minibuses had to fight for routes, and reports suggest that some of the operators established ties with gangsters. They also found ways to deal with traffic policemen.
Thus, Chiu Luen gradually developed its connections and extended its influence.
But will it be able to withstand the boycott campaign being put up by Occupy supporters?
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