Date
23 October 2017
Red minibuses and residents’ coaches are used by thousands of commuters each day but they are excluded from the subsidy scheme. Photo: HKEJ/Internet
Red minibuses and residents’ coaches are used by thousands of commuters each day but they are excluded from the subsidy scheme. Photo: HKEJ/Internet

Public transport subsidy scheme spurs criticism

A plan to introduce a non-means-tested public transport fare subsidy scheme has spurred criticism from concern groups for excluding residents’ coaches and red minibuses, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the scheme in her first policy address on Wednesday.

Under the scheme, the government will provide a subsidy to commuters who spend over HK$400 a month. The subsidy is 25 percent of the amount in excess of HK$400, subject to a cap of HK$300. 

The program covers the MTR, franchised buses, green minibuses (public light buses with fixed schedule, routes and fares), ferries and trams.

About two million commuters are expected to benefit from the scheme.

However, the scheme does not cover residents’ coaches and red minibuses (public light buses without fixed schedule, routes and fares), both of which are used by thousands of commuters each day.

Joseph Lai Yee-tak, permanent secretary for transport and housing (transport), told a press conference on Thursday that the reason red minibuses are excluded is that they are not regulated by the government. He did not say why residents’ coaches are also not covered.

Calling the arrangement unfair, Matthew Wong Leung-pak, chairman of the Public Omnibus Operators Association, said the fact that residents’ coaches need approval from the Transport Department to operate means they are entitled to the scheme.

Operators of residents’ coaches, which serve more than 230,000 passengers a day, are likely to see their passengers drop by up to 30 percent without the subsidies, Wong said.

Cheung Hon-wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Public Light Bus Owners and Drivers Association, said operators of red minibuses hope to be regulated by next year so that they can be included in the subsidy scheme. He said red minibuses serving nearly 80 routes have Octopus processors.

The funds for the subsidy scheme, amounting to HK$2 billion, will come from government dividends from the MTR

At a radio program earlier, Lam was criticized for using public money to subsidize tourists through the scheme.

Lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming, who represents the transport sector, said he plans to write to the government that any subsidy should cover any form of public transport which is legal.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said the government should double the subsidy amount to HK$4 billion and raise the monthly cap to HK$600.

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TL/JC/RA

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