Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has announced that the government’s transport subsidy scheme will cover four more transport services to benefit more people, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The Public Transport Fare Subsidy Scheme will cover red minibuses (public light buses without fixed schedule, routes and fares), residents’ coaches, staff buses and short-distance kaito ferry services, Lam told media before attending a regular Executive Council meeting on Tuesday.
No application is required to join the scheme.
Commuters with monthly public transport expenses exceeding HK$400 are eligible for the public transport fare subsidy, regardless of their income level. The subsidy amount will be 25 percent of the actual expenses above HK$400, subject to a maximum subsidy of HK$300 or covering only travel expenses of up to HK$1,600 a month.
The scheme originally only covered the MTR, franchised buses, green minibuses (public light buses with fixed schedule, routes and fares), ferries and trams and was estimated to benefit more than two million people when Lam delivered her first policy address on Oct. 11.
The government decided to expand the plan after receiving feedback from the community and the transport sector, according to Lam.
With the expansion, Lam said 2.2 million people will benefit from the scheme and public expenditure in this regard will increase to about HK$2.3 billion a year from the previously estimated HK$2 billion.
Under the scheme, all operators must install Octopus card readers and submit operational details on a regular basis as prerequisites for participating in the scheme. Lam believed they will not have difficulty complying with them.
Cheung Hon-wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Public Light Bus Owners and Drivers Association, said although currently there are only around 20 percent of the 1,000 red minibuses are equipped with the reader, he expects the expanded scheme will prompt more to install it.
In a document submitted to the Legislative Council on Tuesday, the Transport and Housing Bureau said the scheme will not be launched until the first quarter of 2019 as there is much preparation to be done, such as system changes and card reader installations.
While commuters can automatically receive the subsidy right after they tap their Octopus cards, the bureau is also talking to major convenience store chains and supermarket operators to allow them to claim the subsidized amount.
As for the concern expressed by some that the scheme will be abused by cross-border parallel traders, the bureau said in the document that it will not set specific restrictions for this group of people since it is difficult to discern whether parallel trading is involved based on commuters’ transport expenses.
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