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LCQ6: Services of MTR East Rail Line and Ma On Shan Line and KMB in North District

     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hak-kan and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (February 20):


     To alleviate the overcrowding in train compartments and reduce passengers' waiting time, the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) last year increased the train trips of a number of railway lines, except for East Rail Line and Ma On Shan Line.  On the other hand, while the overall patronage of the Kowloon Motor Bus Company (1933) Limited (KMB) has reportedly been dropping in the past 10 years, the patronage of bus routes for the North District in the same period has increased by 20%.  Quite a number of residents of New Territories East (NTE), particularly those from the North District, have relayed to me that the aforesaid situation may be attributed to over-loading of the East Rail Line and Ma On Shan Line, resulting in some NTE residents switching to travelling by bus.  These residents have also pointed out that at present the bus services between the North District and urban areas are seriously inadequate, causing great inconvenience to them.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the respective patronage of the East Rail Line and Ma On Shan Line and, among such figures, the respective numbers of passengers travelling to and those not travelling to Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau Control Points, in the past five years; whether it knows why MTRCL did not increase the train trips of the two railway lines last year, as well as whether MTRCL has assessed if the train compartments of the two railway lines are overcrowded during peak hours and if the existing train trips can meet the demand; if MTRCL has assessed, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) of the respective patronage of KMB throughout the territory and in the North District in the past five years; the 10 most patronised bus routes in the North District and the respective average patronage of these routes; apart from the trial run of restructuring the bus routes in the North District, the other specific plans of KMB (such as increasing bus trips and adding bus routes) to ameliorate the inadequacy of bus services between the North District and urban areas; and

(c) of the existing mechanisms which the Transport Department (TD) has in place for co-ordinating the services provided by the various public transport operators for residents in NTE (particularly the North District); whether TD has plans to conduct in this year passengers' satisfaction surveys on the services provided by public transport operators; given NTE's rising population, whether the authorities will request the public transport operators to provide the residents with more convenient and diversified services according to the actual situations?



     It is the Government's public transport policy to use railways as the backbone, with franchised buses providing feeder service as well as direct service to destinations not served by railways.  Other public transport modes play a supplementary role to allow passengers to have choices.  The Transport Department (TD) has been making plans for public transport services according to this policy, taking into account district developments and demographic changes.

     Our reply to the questions raised by the Hon Chan is as follows:

(a) When determining the service frequency of various railway lines including the East Rail Line (EAL) and Ma On Shan Line (MOSL), the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) will consider such factors as patronage, carrying capacity, waiting time of passengers, and the railway network expansion plan, etc., with a view to meeting demand.  In the light of passenger growth, MTRCL has adjusted the service frequency during the morning peak hours since 2009 by operating short-haul trips from stations such as Tai Po Market and Fo Tan to pick up Hung Hom-bound passengers waiting at busy stations.

     Patronage and train loading of the EAL and MOSL from 2008 to 2012 are at Annex I.

     Currently, during the morning peak hours on weekdays, the EAL trains run at an average headway of about 2 minutes and 45 seconds at the busiest section (Fo Tan Station to Hung Hom Station) while the MOSL trains operate at an average frequency of about 3 minutes.  During peak hours, some passengers, particularly those waiting at Sha Tin Station or Tai Wai Station, may not be able to get on the first train arriving at the platform.

     As shown in Annex I, the average loading of the EAL trains during morning peak hours on weekdays is 71%.  This is similar to the situation of other busier railway lines such as Tsuen Wan Line and Island Line.  The majority of passengers crowd at the central part of the train.  MTRCL has undertaken to strengthen platform management and divert passenger flow to both ends of the train, with a view to alleviating the crowdedness.  As a matter of fact, MTRCL employed more than 200 additional Platform Assistants in the past two years for the EAL and MOSL to ensure smooth passenger flow during peak hours.  MTRCL will closely monitor the situation and will increase the manpower if necessary.

     Currently, as the EAL is limited by its signalling system, and that it also has to cater for the Guangdong-Kowloon Through Train, it is unable to increase train frequency.  Immediate procurement of new trains would have little help, as the current train frequency of EAL has almost reached the limit of the signalling system.  When the Shatin-to-Central Link (SCL) Tai Wai to Hung Hom Section is in service in 2018, it is estimated that approximately 23% (about 74 000 passengers per day) of the southbound passengers from the New Territories will switch to use the SCL to travel to urban areas, thus diverting passenger flow.  The signalling system of EAL will be upgraded in 2020 under the SCL project to enable an increase in train frequency.  The overall carrying capacity will further increase by about 12 000 passengers per day when the SCL Hung Hom to Admiralty Section is in operation.

     Before the commissioning of the first section of SCL, it is expected that the Express Rail Link will come into service in 2015.  The Government will monitor whether the demand for Guangdong-Kowloon Through Train service will be reduced by then.  If so, we will explore whether rail capacity could be released to strengthen local EAL service.

(b) In the past five years, the average daily patronage of The Kowloon Motor Bus Company (1933) Limited (KMB) dropped by about 4%, from about 2.7 million in 2008 to about 2.58 million in 2012.  Over the same period, the patronage of KMB routes in the North District rose by about 7%, from about 164 000 to about 175 000.  In 2012, each of the ten most patronised bus routes serving the North District, as shown in Annex II, handled a passenger volume ranging from about 6 500 to 18 000 on average everyday.

     The bus services of KMB in the North District have been enhanced in recent years.  Examples include the strengthening of services for route 270A (Sheung Shui - Tsim Sha Tsui East) and route 373A (Fanling - Wanchai) during morning peak.  The frequency of route 373A has also been further increased and its service hours extended.

     In 2013-14, an "area approach" will be adopted to rationalise bus routes in the North District.  Some routes with low utilisation, with alternative means of transport, or are overly circuitous or overlap with other route(s) will be rationalised.  The resources so spared will be deployed to routes with high demand, including the consideration of introducing new external route to the urban area.  Details of the rationalisation proposals are being formulated and are expected to be available in three months' time for consultation with the North District Council.  Meanwhile, preliminary district consultation has begun.

(c) TD will continue to closely monitor and co-ordinate different types of public transport services through examining operational data, conducting site inspections, and taking into account views of the District Councils and the public.  Services will be strengthened at an appropriate juncture according to demand. Passengers' travelling patterns will change following the commissioning of new rail lines.  TD will carry out consultancy studies in advance and conduct district consultation in order to rationalise the arrangements for the different transport services.

     The SCL will be commissioned in 2018 to meet the population growth of the New Territories East.  Over 10 enhancement proposals for bus services will also benefit the New Territories East in 2013-14, and TD will consult the North District Council.  In fact, in the past five years, three new franchised bus routes, four new green minibus routes and four new residents' service routes have been introduced in the New Territories East.

     MTRCL carries out passenger surveys regularly.  Respondents are generally satisfied with safety and reliability of MTR, sufficiency of passenger information, and cleanliness of train compartments.  Franchised bus companies also conduct passenger surveys every year.  Passengers are generally satisfied with bus captains' compliance with traffic regulations, travelling speed and driving skills.

Ends/Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Issued at HKT 18:54


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