The cross-border high-speed rail, which is expected to begin operations in the third quarter of 2018, may not be a big draw for Hongkongers as the proposed fares are higher than anticipated, according to some lawmakers.
It is open to question as to whether the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) will pull passengers in great numbers as the fares are not that attractive compared to those of existing means of transportation, the critics say.
On Monday, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan announced the fares for the upcoming express rail service after he met up with China Railway Corporation officials in Beijing.
According to an agreement reached by both sides, it will cost passengers HK$260 to take a ride from Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Station to the Guangzhou South station.
A journey from Hong Kong to Humen in Dongguan will cost HK$210, while trips to Shenzhen’s Futian and Shenzhen North stations will cost HK$80 and HK$90, respectively.
Chan said although the express rail will cost HK$50 more for a trip to Guangzhou compared with HK$210 that one has to pay currently for travel on the existing through-train, it is still relatively attractive considering the service’s advantages, in aspects such as speed, comfort and journey time.
The transport chief added that there would be at most 228 trains, or 114 pairs, in total running daily between Hong Kong and the four aforementioned stations in Guangdong province on each of the projected 130 peak days a year.
Based on estimated demand and passenger traffic, 30 pairs of trains will go to Guangzhou South and Humen, while the remaining 84 will end at Futian or Shenzhen North.
The plans are all subject to adjustment depending on actual passenger load factor, Chan said.
Some lawmakers expressed doubts as to how popular the service will be among cross-border travelers.
As people currently pay around 38 to 52 percent less to get to Futian or Humen by bus, many people may be reluctant to shell out more for the express rail, they said.
It only costs HK$50 from Hong Kong to Futian when one takes a cross-border coach, which involves a journey time of 45 minutes.
That will make it 37.5 percent cheaper than taking the high-speed rail, with passengers likely to sacrifice journey time for cost. (The XRL will take just 14 minutes to get to Futian from Hong Kong).
From Hong Kong to Humen, the coach service charges HK$100, about more than half the HK$210 charged by the high-speed rail.
When it comes to Guangzhou, the express rail will drop off passengers at Guangzhou South, which is a suburban area, rather than the downtown area of Guangzhou East, a factor that might also come into play in travel decisions.
Tanya Chan Suk-chong, convenor of the Co-location Concern Group, which had raised several concerns over the cross-border rail project, said the fares are shocking because they are much higher than what the government projected in 2009 and 2016.
The Civic Party lawmaker demanded the government explain why there are such big differences.
Setting the fares at high level will only deter people from taking the XRL, which will result in less-than-expected ticket revenues that will need to be compensated by public money to a great extent and cause a financial black hole, she said.
Chan Han-pan, a lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, also said he deems the fares unattractive.
Chan, who is deputy chairman of the Legislative Council’s subcommittee on railway-related matters, suggested that service frequency of the high-speed trains be increased and fare concessions offered during the initial phase to enhance the competitiveness of the new transport link.
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