Following is a question by the Hon Lau Kong-wah and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works, Dr Sarah Liao, in the Legislative Council meeting today (May 21) :-
It is learnt that as Octopus cards with a negative value cannot be used before value is added onto them, members of the public who intend to enjoy the interchange concessions by using Octopus cards will not be able to do so if the remaining value of their cards is negative after paying the fares for the first leg of the journey and they are not able to add value onto the cards before paying the fares for the second leg. Under such circumstances, they can only pay the fares of the second leg in cash, thus failing to enjoy the interchange concessions. Such scenario is particularly common at some major bus-to-bus interchange points, such as the Shing Mun Tunnel Interchange Point and the Tate's Cairn Tunnel Interchange Point. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the numbers of complaints received by the authorities and companies concerned respectively over the past six months about Octopus card deposits and the commuters' failure to enjoy the interchange concessions due to the above restriction;
(b) although members of the public have paid deposit at the time of purchasing an Octopus card, a card with a negative value cannot be used before value is added onto it, will the authorities discuss with the companies concerned solutions to the inconvenience and unfairness caused by the above restriction to the public; and
(c) whether guidelines have been issued to the companies concerned requiring them to provide adequate number of Octopus add value machines to facilitate the use of Octopus cards by the public to enjoy the interchange concessions?
According to information provided by the Octopus Cards Limited (OCL), the Transport Complaints Unit of the Transport Advisory Committee and relevant transport operators, during the half year between November 2002 and April 2003, there was no complaint received on the $50 Octopus card deposit whereas 13 complaints were received over loss of interchange concessions due to failure to reload value onto Octopus cards.
At present, passengers who use Octopus cards with positive remaining value can utilize the reserved value of the cards to complete their journeys. The maximum reserved value of an Octopus card is $35, i.e. the maximum permitted negative value is $35. This arrangement ensures that cardholders who board a vehicle by using Octopus cards with positive balance will have sufficient value on the cards to complete their journeys, including train trips from Hung Hom to Lo Wu. The $50 deposit charged by OCL covers the card cost of $30 which is paid upfront to the card supplier and $20 as part of the permitted negative value. The charging of deposit is to recover the card cost and part of the negative value. OCL also hopes that the deposit would encourage cardholders to safekeep their cards and not to simply discard them after incurring a negative value. Since the cost of an Octopus card plus its maximum permitted negative value amount to $65, OCL is in fact carrying a $15 credit risk per card. If a card is discarded after incurring the maximum negative value, the deposit cannot cover the company's loss. As such, the deposit amount and the arrangement of allowing Octopus cards to incur a negative value only once are commercial decisions of OCL taking into account its mode of operation, commercial risks and users' needs.
Whether to install the Octopus system and increase the number of Add-Value Machines are commercial decisions of individual organizations. The Government has not issued any guidelines in this connection. OCL's information shows that there are at present over 3,000 devices at about 1,700 locations providing add-value service, including those at railway stations, customer service centres of transport operators, car parks and retail outlets which accept payment by Octopus. In addition, OCL has joined 18 banks to provide Automatic Add-Value Service for more than 380,000 holders of personalised Octopus cards.
To facilitate the use of Octopus cards, OCL will continue to explore the installation of more Add-Value Machines at popular locations with transport operators and retail merchants. The company has also indicated that it would be happy to work with transport operators offering interchange schemes to study possible ways to ensure that passengers will be able to enjoy interchange discounts. We also understand that a bus company is considering the installation of Add-Value Machines at specific interchange points. Of course, to enjoy the convenience brought about by Octopus cards, an effective way is for the cardholders to reload value onto the cards timely, or make use of the Automatic Add-Value Service.
End/Wednesday, May 21, 2003