LCQ11: School bus services

     Following is a question by the Hon Starry Lee Wai-king and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Ms Eva Cheng, in the Legislative Council today (June 27):


     Owing to high oil prices, and the fact that some buses providing transport service for students (school buses) have shifted to provide service for the tourism industry, the supply of school buses has fallen short of the demand.  According to a questionnaire survey conducted among more than 200 primary and secondary schools, around 14% of the responding schools had invited a number of companies to bid for school bus service contracts, but they were in a predicament of "receiving zero bid".  Among the schools which did receive bids for school bus service contracts, almost half of them indicated that the quotations for school bus fares had increased drastically by an average of 11.4%, and had even doubled in some individual cases, which will impose a heavy burden on parents.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it will, before the commencement of the 2012-2013 school year, provide assistance to the schools which received "zero bid", so as to avoid students going to schools by themselves; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) whether it will consider putting school bus fares under the Student Travel Subsidy Scheme, so as to alleviate the burden on parents; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) in order to attract more operators to provide school bus service, whether the Government will consider encouraging other subsectors of transport services (such as tour service, hotel service, employees' service, international passenger service, and residents' service, etc.) to provide school bus service; and at the same time allow school bus service operators to run other bus services (including residents' service) under the premise that they ensure the provision of school bus service; in addition, whether the Government will introduce greater flexibility to the current endorsement system, so as to allow operators of other bus services to use their free time to run school bus service as well;      

(d) whether it will reconsider conducting a review of the regulatory framework and licensing system for non-franchised buses; and

(e) whether it will establish a mechanism to strengthen its regulation of the supply and the fare level of school buses?



     Currently, primary and secondary schools arrange school bus service in response to the needs of parents for such service.   Whether there is sufficient school bus service at a reasonable fare for schools to choose from depends primarily on the operation of the commercial market.  According to the Transport Department (TD), there are at present a total of about 4,900 buses and light buses in the market providing student service.  They include 3,543 non-franchised public buses (public NFBs) with student service endorsement, 60 school private buses, and 1,281 school private light buses (SPLBs).  Public NFBs may, according to the endorsement(s) issued by TD, provide a single or a combination of services, including student service.  School private buses are a type of non-franchised private buses and are generally operated by a school direct to provide service to students of the school concerned or of the relevant school sponsoring body.  SPLBs, commonly known as "nanny vans", are a special category of private light buses which can only provide carriage of the teachers and students to and from an educational institution.  

     Our reply to the respective parts of the question is as follows:

(a) The Education Bureau suggests in case there is a tight supply of school bus service for a certain area, the school concerned may make necessary arrangements in the light of its own circumstances and needs.  Such arrangements include forming a school bus network via discussion and coordination with schools within the same area or under the same school sponsoring body.  Invitations for quotations or tenders from operators of public NFBs or SPLBs for the provision of school bus service may then be jointly arranged.  

     Any person who wishes to provide transport service for students using a SPLB only needs to submit an application to TD with details of the intended service, together with the relevant documentary proof of the individual or organisation, as well as a letter of recommendation from the relevant educational institution.  

     Moreover, a school or a school sponsoring body may consider operating school private buses direct to provide transport service for their students.  If a school or a school sponsoring body can provide sufficient justifications and the supporting documents needed, TD will consider approving the application concerned.    

(b) The Government has been providing through the existing Student Travel Subsidy Scheme (the Scheme) a travel subsidy to needy students pursuing full-time studies at primary, secondary and post-secondary levels up to the first degree in a recognised institution and residing beyond a ten-minute walking distance from the school concerned.  Eligible students passing the means test may make an application irrespective of the transport mode (including school bus) used.

     The Scheme provides a cash subsidy on a non-accountable basis in a simple and direct manner to needy families at the earliest juncture, and leaves the students with sufficient flexibility to choose freely the transport modes for home-school travels.

     The amount of travel subsidy is calculated on the basis of the average round-trip fare during the school term between the area that the student concerned resides and the area where his/her school is located.  Such fare is computed and determined according to the average travel expense of commuting by public transport.   The Administration is of the view that the existing method to calculate the amount of travel subsidy can already provide appropriate assistance to students with financial difficulties.  It can also safeguard the proper use of public money.  It is therefore a suitable arrangement.  

(c) Under the current regulatory regime, operators of public NFBs may, in response to the demand for service and their operating conditions, apply to TD for a single or a combination of endorsements.  Such endorsements may be for tour service, hotel service, student service, employees' service, international passenger service, residents' service and contract hire service.  

     As at end-March of this year, there were 7,069 public NFBs in the market.  3,543 of them have obtained a student service endorsement under which they can provide student service.  Of these 3,543 buses, over 3,400 are already holding other service endorsement(s).  This means they can provide other service(s) alongside the provision of student service.  

(d) & (e) Under the current regime, operators of public NFBs may in response to market development and demand apply for an increase in the number of vehicles or variation of the type(s) of service(s) provided by their fleet.  On the principle of free market operation, TD will not regulate the supply of any particular type of public NFB service, or the supply of school private buses and SPLBs, as well as their fare levels.

     From 2005 till now, the overall number of public NFBs has been largely stable.  As mentioned above, operators of public NFBs may, in response to the demand for service, apply to TD for a single or a combination of endorsements, including that for student service.  Besides, the number of school private buses has also been generally steady.  During the same period, the number of SPLBs has increased from about 1,100 to about 1,280.  

     Taking the above situation into account, the existing licensing regime can basically cater for market demand flexibly.  Hence, the Government does not have any plan to review the regulatory and licensing regime for the aforementioned vehicles.  

     TD will continue to monitor the changes in the number of the various types of public NFBs, school private buses and SPLBs, as well as to keep in view their utilisation.  TD will also continue to maintain close liaison with the trade through regular meetings, and to adjust measures in response to changes in supply and demand in a timely manner to cater for the development and demand of our society.

Ends/Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:00