LCQ12: Public transport concessions scheme for the elderly and persons with disabilities

     Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (February 15):

Question :

     In his 2011-2012 Policy Address, the Chief Executive (CE) proposed public transport fare concessions (fare concessions) for the elderly and eligible persons with disabilities (PWDs) to travel by MTR trains, franchised buses and ferries at a concessionary fare of $2 per trip.  At the Question and Answer Session of this Council held last month, CE indicated that he would seek to implement the fare concessions scheme for the elderly before the change of the Government.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the details of the necessary procedures and preparatory work, etc from putting forward to implementing the fare concessions proposal; of the latest progress, including discussions with the public transport operators (operators) and difficulties encountered in tackling technical problems and problems in administrative procedures, etc (eg sharing of administrative costs, etc); whether the authorities have requested the operators to shoulder their social responsibilities and bear more of the additional expenditures arising from the proposal; and

(b) given that after the announcement of the fare concessions proposal, different views (including lowering the minimum age limit for elderly recipients and extending the concessions to all public transport to encourage the elderly and PWDs to go out for activities) have been expressed in the community, whether the authorities have assessed the feasibility of these views; if they have not, of the reasons; whether they have specifically contacted other operators (eg green minibus operators, etc); whether the authorities have planned to extend the concessions to cover the entire public transport system at the next stage?



     In his Policy Address last year, the Chief Executive proposed a public transport concessions scheme for the elderly and persons with disabilities (the Scheme) to enable all elderly people aged 65 or above and eligible persons with disabilities to travel on the general Mass Transit Railway (MTR) lines, franchised buses and ferries anytime at a concessionary fare of $2 a trip.  The Scheme aims to encourage the elderly and eligible persons with disabilities to participate in more community activities, thereby enriching social capital and developing a spirit of care and inclusiveness.  The basic principle of the Scheme is that on the premise of maintaining existing fare concessions by the public transport operators concerned, the Government will provide additional resources for offering a concessionary fare of $2 per trip.  The Administration would reimburse the public transport operators the revenue forgone arising from the implementation of Scheme.  

     My reply to the Hon Frederick Fung's question is as follows:

(a) Apart from negotiating with the MTR Corporation Limited, five franchised bus companies and numerous ferry service operators (the public transport operators) on the detailed implementation and financial arrangement of the Scheme, we need the full support of the public transport operators and the Octopus Cards Limited (OCL) in respect of hardware and software facilities.  Considerable time will be required for modifying, upgrading and testing the Octopus system of the respective public transport operator with a view to ensuring stability, reliability and accuracy.  Moreover, the Government needs to make amendments to the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO), and seek the Legislative Council Finance Committee's funding approval, etc.  Since the Scheme involves a significant amount of public resources and is of a recurrent nature, we must ensure the reliability of the operating mechanism and every detail of the Scheme.

     The Labour and Welfare Bureau, Transport and Housing Bureau as well as Transport Department have been pressing ahead full steam with various preparatory work.  The negotiation with the public transport operators and the OCL is in full swing.  We have also started the preparatory work for amending the DDO.  Our aim is to finalise all detailed arrangements in the first half of this year and launch the Scheme as soon as possible in the second half of the year, upon completion of the upgrading and testing of the systems of the public transport operators.

(b) MTR and the majority of franchised bus companies are currently offering elderly concessionary fare of $2 on designated days for elderly people aged 65 or above.  On this basis, the Government proposes to extend the elderly concessionary fare of $2 to other days.  We have no plan to extend the Scheme to other age groups.  

     Much complicated and time-consuming preparatory work has to be done before the Scheme can be launched with MTR, franchised buses and ferries.  To enable the elderly and eligible persons with disabilities to enjoy the concessionary fares as soon as possible, we will launch the Scheme first on the three major modes of public transport, viz MTR, franchised buses and ferries.  Following the full implementation of the Scheme for a period of time, we will review the feasibility of extending its scope.  In fact, MTR, franchised buses and ferries account for about 70% of our average daily public transport patronage.

Ends/Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:32