LCQ12: Student transport service

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Yau Shing-mu, in the Legislative Council today (December 4):


     There are currently three types of vehicles providing student transport service (school bus service): (i) non-franchised public buses with student service endorsement, (ii) private school buses operated by schools or school sponsoring bodies direct, and (iii) school private light buses (commonly called "nanny vans").  In the 2012-2013 school year, there were over 16 000 cross-boundary students, representing a sharp increase of 27% as compared to the figure of the previous school year. Moreover, some parents have pointed out that as it is increasingly common for school children to attend schools in districts other than that in which they reside owing to the increasing popularity of international schools and Direct Subsidy Scheme schools, the demand for school bus service has increased. Some school authorities have relayed that they find it difficult to arrange school bus service to cover all relevant districts due to the undersupply of school buses. In addition, some parents have complained about the exorbitant fares of school buses, while some school bus service operators (operators) have complained about the shortage of pick-up and drop-off areas that are safe in the vicinity of schools and public housing estates, etc. Although nanny vans have applied to the Transport Department for permits for picking up and dropping off passengers in restricted zones, most of the restricted zones in the vicinity of schools are occupied by illegally parked private cars, forcing nanny vans to stop in the middle of the road to pick up and drop off school children. As a result, and coupled with the fact that the roads are narrow, there are conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles. These operators have also pointed out that because of the serious shortage of parking spaces in various districts, they can only park their vehicles in outdoor car parks, resulting in not only the accelerated wear and tear of their vehicles due to exposure in the sun and rain, but also insurance companies' refusal to provide insurance coverage for their vehicles on the ground that such vehicles are not parked in appropriate parking spaces. Moreover, it has been reported that in order to cut costs and having regard to the undersupply of nanny vans, some operators set up "interchange stations" at the intersections of school bus routes to arrange for school children going to different destinations to interchange. However, due to the shortage of escorts on school buses, some young school children need to board and alight school buses or even cross the roads with heavy traffic on their own, and are thus subjected to danger. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the respective numbers of vehicles which can provide school bus service in various District Council districts (DC districts) at present;

(b) whether it has compiled statistics to assess if the respective numbers of buses of the aforesaid types (i) and (ii) in various DC districts can meet the demand; if it has not compiled such statistics, of the reasons for that; if it has, the details, and if the assessment result is in the affirmative, whether the authorities have examined why quite a number of parents still look for nanny van service;

(c) of the respective regulatory regimes formulated by the authorities for the aforesaid three types of vehicles which provide student transport service; of the measures taken by the authorities to step up regulatory efforts so as to enhance the standard of the conduct of the trade and safeguard the safety of school children;

(d) whether it will provide additional pick-up and drop-off areas for school buses in the vicinity of schools and public housing estates, etc. (eg by allowing school buses to pick up and drop off school children in restricted zones during designated hours when they go to/leave school, instead of requiring each school bus to make individual application annually), and step up law enforcement actions against illegal parking of private cars in the vicinity of schools, so as to avoid the pick-up and drop-off areas for school buses being illegally occupied by private cars, hence compromising the safety of school children; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(e) whether it will enhance its support for operators and the continuous training for practitioners in the trade to increase their awareness of safety in taking care of school children; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(f) of the respective numbers of parking spaces for school buses in various DC districts at present; whether it will increase the number of parking spaces for school buses in various DC districts; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(g) as the taking out of insurance by some operators for their vehicles has been refused by insurance companies, whether the authorities have measures in place to help the trade solve this problem; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?


     School buses play an important role in carrying students to and from schools. The Transport Department (TD) has been closely monitoring the supply situation of school buses and making arrangements to cater for free market operation. Regarding the school bus operation, TD provides guidelines to the trade and imposes regulation in the light of the actual operation of school buses. TD also maintains communication with the trade and takes appropriate measures to meet the normal operational need of school buses and ensure the safety of school children.

     My replies to the various parts of Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat's question are as follows:

(a) & (b) There are three types of student service vehicles (SSVs): (i) non-franchised public buses (public NFBs) with student service endorsement (SSE); (ii) private school buses operated directly by schools or school sponsoring bodies; and (iii) school private light buses (SPLBs) (commonly known as "nanny vans"). At present, about 5 200 SSVs can provide student transport service including 3 468 public NFBs with SSE, 68 school private buses and 1 722 SPLBs. While the number of public NFBs with SSE reduced slightly by 3% in the past two years, the number of SPLBs increased by 37% during the same period. Meanwhile, the number of students in 2012 dropped by about 5% compared with that in 2011 . As a whole, the supply of SSVs has remained largely stable.

     Operators of public NFBs and nanny vans may, in response to market demand and their operating situation, provide student transport service in different districts and for different schools. School private buses are basically operated directly by schools. TD does not have the relevant figures by districts.

(c) The operation of SSVs is regulated through the licensing conditions of the Passenger Service Licences (PSLs) and the vehicle licences, both issued by TD, to the vehicles concerned. Such conditions include the requirement of SSVs serving kindergarten or primary school students to provide escorts on board for student care. According to the explanatory notes to the PSL conditions, an escort should be an adult who has attained the age of 21 years and has good physique; should take good care of students and maintain discipline during the journey; and should ensure that students reach schools safely and are picked up by their parents/guardians on their homeward journey.

     TD has been paying close attention to the operation of SSVs for ensuring the safety of students on their way to and from schools. Apart from conducting follow-up investigations upon complaints, TD will carry out spot checks at schools in various districts from time to time to see if there is non-compliance of PSL conditions by SSVs. If an investigation identifies any suspected violation of the law, PSL conditions or licensing conditions of vehicle licence, the Government will take follow-up actions in accordance with the law. For example, if an SSV is found to have provided unauthorised services, TD may conduct an inquiry against the licence holder concerned under the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap 374 of the Laws of Hong Kong).  Once the inquiry has established that the licensee has violated the PSL conditions, the Commissioner of Transport may suspend, cancel or vary the PSL concerned.

(d) TD has been closely monitoring the traffic situation in the vicinity of schools and maintaining communication with schools and operators of student transport service from time to time. TD will take into account the SSV operation of individual schools or districts as well as the views collected to implement appropriate traffic management measures when necessary and liaise with the Police to step up enforcement against illegal parking. Furthermore, relevant departments including TD and the Housing Department will consider setting up SSV pick-up and drop-off areas in the vicinity of schools, public housing estates and other locations, having regard to factors including the actual traffic condition of individual districts, geographical environment, need for students to alight and board school buses and safety consideration.

(e) TD has drawn up safety guidelines for stakeholders of student transport service including operators, schools, drivers and escorts to remind them of the requirements to be observed in service delivery. TD has also set out safety guidelines for parents/guardians and students to advise them of the safety matters to be observed when using SSVs. Before the start of every school year, TD writes to all operators and schools to remind them of the issues that they need to pay attention to when providing and using student transport service as well as the safety guidelines mentioned above. All relevant information has been uploaded onto the website of the Education Bureau for wider publicity.

     Separately, TD maintains close contact with the trade and conveys safety messages through regular meetings and frequent liaison. As regards enhancing training for practitioners, TD will consult the trade and if necessary, assist the trade to approach the relevant organisations for arranging training programmes.

(f) As mentioned above, there are three types of SSVs, namely SPLBs, public NFBs and private school buses. Currently, there are no parking spaces designated for the exclusive use by SSVs. SSVs may park at any suitable parking spaces according to their types and sizes. For example, SPLBs may park at private car parking spaces as SPLBs and private cars are of similar length and width. Larger SPLBs may park at parking spaces for minibuses. Public NFBs and private school buses may use the parking spaces for non-franchised buses.

     The Government will continue to monitor the parking need of various types of vehicles, including SSVs, in Hong Kong and implement suitable measures to cater for the demand when necessary.

(g) The nanny van trade has earlier relayed to TD that the insurance industry has set an overly high premium for SSVs and they have encountered difficulty in taking out insurance from insurance agencies. TD has relayed the views and suggestions of the trade to the Office of the Commissioner for Insurance. After the concerns of the trade have been relayed, some insurance agencies have differentiated nanny vans from NFBs which do not provide student services when setting the premium, resulting in a slightly lower premium for nanny vans. The Hong Kong Federation of Insurers has also distributed a list of insurance agencies providing insurance policies for NFBs and nanny vans to facilitate members of the trade to search for suitable insurers. TD will continue to help the trade liaise and communicate with the relevant organisations and provide the trade with assistance as far as possible.

Ends/Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Issued at HKT 12:30