Following the raging scandals and major accidents plaguing our public transport system, I decided to travel to London this summer to take a closer look at the city’s public transport network and try to find out if there is anything we can learn from it.
Of all the forms of public transport service in London, the Underground is one of the most popular and frequently used.
First coming into service in 1863, the London Underground is the oldest rapid mass transit system in the world.
And for that reason, some of the basic facilities and features which most Hongkongers would take for granted such as escalators, air-conditioned trains, and even cellphone coverage are still unavailable along the Underground.
Despite all these inconveniences, however, there is at least one thing about London’s public transport system that our city can learn, which is its daily fare capping mechanism, also known as “pay as you go with capping” system.
As we all know, London is among the world’s most expensive places to live in, and the city’s public transport costs are notably high. For instance, it would cost you more than 2 pounds (HK$20.2, US$2.56) to travel just two or three stations in the Underground.
Nevertheless, under the city’s transport fare capping system, both local commuters and tourists can travel around London by public transport as many times as they like within a single day, with their maximum cost of fares being capped at the same level as that of three underground rides approximately, except for certain long-distance journeys such as a trip to the airport.
By using a smart travel pass like our Octopus Card, people can travel freely by the Underground, and the system will automatically keep a running record of all the ticket fares they have paid.
Once their total fare costs reach a fixed limit, a cap will kick in, after which they won’t be charged for further journeys made within the city throughout the rest of the day.
A merit of this system is that it can cap your daily transport cost so that you don’t have to worry about spending too much on commuting on a daily basis.
Since almost all types of public transport in Hong Kong are run by the private sector, and due to the rapid growth in operating costs, fare hikes, particularly those for long journeys, have become increasingly frequent, thereby further adding to the financial burden of our citizens.
The Hong Kong government is providing three separate public transport allowance schemes for eligible citizens, including the means-tested Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme, and the Government Public Transport Fare Concession Scheme for the Elderly and Eligible Persons with Disabilities, or more commonly known as the “2-dollar scheme”.
There is a third non-means-tested subsidy scheme, under which eligible Hong Kong citizens are entitled to a fixed HK$300 monthly allowance to subsidize their public transport costs.
I believe there are a lot of insights that our government can draw from the daily public transport fare capping system employed by London.
To put it more precisely, the government can set a fixed limit for our daily public transport costs by adjusting the Octopus Card system.
And once the total costs of our fares reach that limit, the system will automatically put a cap on them, so that we won’t be charged anymore for the further journeys we make by public transport for the rest of the day.
For example, if the fixed daily limit is set at HK$50, with the additional cost being covered by the government, then a person’s average monthly cost for commuting will stand at around HK$1,500.
If you are making HK$15,000 a month, then the total cost of public transport fares will only account for no more than 10 percent of your monthly salary.
I am sure such a fare capping plan, once launched, will be as well-received as the “2-dollar scheme” and can definitely boost the popularity of the government.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 18
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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