March 16, 2023
HONG KONG – All of Hong Kong’s five franchised bus companies applied to raise their fares, triggering concerns among residents and lawmakers about living costs for the grassroots and the city’s bid for economic revival.
Kowloon Motor Bus proposed an increase of 9.5 percent, while its sister company Long Win Bus hopes to charge passengers 8.5 percent more. New World First Bus and Citybus asked for an across-the-board HK$2 increase while New Lantao Bus applied for an increase of 9.8 percent, according to a document submitted by the special administrative region government to the Legislative Council.
Citybus also wants to raise by 50 percent the fare on its airport A and NA routes, and by 23 percent on the rest of its regular and overnight services, including B, E, R, S and N routes.
The legislature’s Panel on Transport will discuss the applications on Friday.
A spokesperson for KMB said the adjustment was reasonable, adding that the company has only raised prices four times in the past two decades while the Long Win Bus has only increased fares twice.
Citybus and New World First Bus said they made their proposals as the current fares are not enough to offset the increase in operating costs.
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The two companies have adjusted their fares only three times in the past 15 years. They pointed out that the operating costs, such as fuel prices and employee wages, have increased over the years, and the fare increases have fallen far short of inflation.
In 2020, 2021, and 2022, franchised buses facilitated about 3.0 million, 3.5 million, and 3.1 million average daily passenger journeys, respectively, according to a government document. These figures are lower than the average number of daily passenger journeys from 2010 to 2019, which ranged from 3.8 million to 4.0 million.
The decline was mainly due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also due to an increase in competition for passengers from other transport modes. Coupled with increases in salary and fuel expenses, most of the city’s franchises have recorded losses in the past few years, according to the document.
A government spokesperson said on Wednesday morning that the SAR government will prudently consider the applications to minimize the impact on people’s livelihoods while ensuring the financial sustainability of the bus operators.
The government will consider several factors, including each company’s financial situation and prospects, the acceptability and affordability of proposed increases to the public, and the quality and quantity of bus services, the spokesperson added.
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The spokesperson also said the government would recommend lowering the rate of increase, or even reject the application, if the proposed rate of increase is considered excessive.
Wing Chun-lai, a Hong Kong resident who regularly takes KMB buses from Tuen Mun to Mong Kok, said the city’s consumer prices are quite high and, as life has gradually returned to normal following the pandemic, social activities have increased, which has also led to an increase in transportation fees. He currently spends about HK$1,100 to HK$1,200 a month on transportation, which would go up if the fare hike is approved.
Although the fare increase may allow more residents to reach the threshold for enjoying the government’s transportation subsidies, any gains would be offset by the higher fares, he noted.
Hong Kong resident Luo Shiyuan said his daily commute from Tsing Yi to Tin Hau costs more than HK$30. He noted that if the fares are increased, grassroots residents will face more difficulties as transportation expenses will be higher.
Lawmaker and Chairman of LegCo’s Panel on Transport Ben Chan Han-pan said he understands that the bus companies are facing operational difficulties but the proposed fare rise of HK$2 by New World First Bus and Citybus is unreasonable, especially for some short or lower-priced routes.
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Currently, a journey on route 98 of Citybus from Lei Tung Estate in Ap Lei Chau to Abderdeen Centre costs only HK$3.1. But if the HK$2 fare hike is approved, the trip would cost HK$5.1, or an increase of 64.5 percent.
Chan said he believes that the business environment for bus companies will improve with the city’s return to normal following the pandemic and called on authorities to prudently consider the applications.
Lawmaker Bill Tang Ka-piu said that the proposed 50 percent fare increase on Citybus’ airport routes is “astonishing” and would dramatically increase the cost of living for employees working at the airport. He also expressed concern that fare increases may slow the pace of the city’s economic revival.
Currently, all of Hong Kong’s five franchised bus companies are operating about 750 routes. Hong Kong is one of the few cities in the world without a public bus service.