【明報專訊】THE EXECUTIVE COUNCIL has approved a 4.9 percent bus fare increase by Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB), but this has not solved KMB's operational difficulties, and the pressure to raise fares is still there.
With the rail network getting better and better developed, bus passenger numbers have continued to decline, from 3.1 million a day in 2002 to about 2.6 million a day today. According to KMB, whereas in the past 70 percent of its 400-strong bus routes were profitable and helped subsidise the 30 percent run at a loss, now only 30 percent of the routes are profitable and help subsidise the 70 percent run at a loss. The fact is that KMB has failed to adjust its services according to the fall in passenger numbers. As a result, its operations are not always cost-effective and resources are wasted, which also means extra air pollution.
KMB first proposed reorganising its routes and reducing service frequency about ten years ago, but has failed to make the necessary adjustments because of the existing approval system. The Transport Department's practice is to have the bus company consult the district councils concerned. If the district councils approve of the adjustments proposed, the Transport Department will give the proposals the green light; otherwise, the proposals will most likely be turned down. As out of vote-seeking considerations district councils and councillors are primarily concerned with local interests, they more often than not are opposed to bus services reorganisation. This is why the situation has gradually got out of hand.
In his first policy address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying referred to the necessity of reorganising bus routes, which shows that his government attaches greater importance to the problem than its predecessors. As 2013 and 2014 are not election years, the government and KMB should be relatively free from political interferences. They should make good use of this opportunity and push for the reorganisation of bus routes. But how are they to persuade district councillors to accept their proposals? Discussions in this respect will again deteriorate into political bargaining unless certain criteria and data are used to make informed decisions.
We would like to make three suggestions for the consideration of the parties concerned:
(1) In many cities in the United States, the transport authorities have regulations that ensure the cost-effectiveness of public transport services. For instance, in Chicago, if a bus does not carry a minimum of 30 passengers per hour per trip on average, the bus route concerned will be re-examined and revised. Numeral data represent objective facts. The government should establish a mechanism in accordance with Hong Kong's special conditions so as to let data speak for themselves and eliminate political considerations and meaningless controversies.
(2) The reorganisation of bus services should not be dictated by district councils. While KMB and the government should still seek the councils' opinions, their opinions should not overrule other considerations. For the issue has to do with the interests of society as a whole. The government may instead have the bus rerouting plans presented to the Legislative Council's Panel on Transport for discussion so that they may be examined in the context of Hong Kong's overall interests.
(3) Savings achieved by the reorganisation of bus routes must be factored into bus fares, and must not be taken as profits by the bus company. We are confident that, when bus rerouting means for the citizen a reduction in transportation expenditure, political parties and politicians will not presume to oppose it for selfish reasons.