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LCQ5: Priority seats and barrier-free facilities provided by public transport modes

     Following is a question by the Hon Michael Tien and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (July 9):


     At present, some public transport means have provided barrier-free facilities and designated certain seats for priority use by people in need (including the elderly, persons with disabilities (PWD), pregnant women and parents carrying young children). Nevertheless, quite a number of such people in need have relayed to me that such barrier-free facilities are still very inadequate, making it inconvenient for PWD to use public transport services. Furthermore, many passengers currently have little awareness of offering seats to people in need as they keep their heads down to use their mobile phones or pretend not noticing other passengers in greater need for a seat. Moreover, some passengers who look like senior people feel offended when other people offer seats to them, while the people offering the seats also feel embarrassed as their kind offers have been rejected and they therefore no longer take the initiative to offer seats to others. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows the current average proportion of the seats of each public transport means which are priority seats; whether the authorities have required public transport service operators to provide specified proportions of the seats on various means of public transport for priority use by people in need; if they have not, whether they will make such a requirement;

(2) whether it knows the barrier-free facilities currently provided by each public transport means; of the new measures of the Government and public transport service operators to improve the existing barrier-free facilities on various public transport means; whether the Government has any plan to stipulate that all public transport means must provide barrier-free access and facilities; if it has such a plan, of the implementation timetable; and

(3) whether the Government will discuss with public transport service operators, by making reference to the practice of the Southern Railway Limited in the United Kingdom, issuing "priority seating cards" to people in need, which grant holders the priority right in using priority seats; how the Government will raise public awareness of offering seats to people in need through civic education, and whether it knows the new measures of public transport service operators to encourage passengers to offer their seats to people in need?


Acting President,

     The Government has been taking forward the concept of "barrier-free transport" through working with public transport operators to enhance public transport facilities where feasible. This is to build a barrier-free transport system to cater for the needs of various passenger groups, including the elderly and people with disabilities (PwDs). Further, the Transport Department (TD) has set up the "Working Group on Access to Public Transport by People with Disabilities" (Note 1) and meets with representatives of PwDs regularly to understand their needs. A total of 20 PwD groups are members of the working group.

     The reply to the various parts of the Hon Michael Tien's question is as follows:

(1) and (2) Under the Government's active encouragement, major public transport modes (such as MTR and franchised buses) have designated priority seats for priority use by people in need (including the elderly, PwDs, pregnant women and commuters travelling with young children).

     In accordance with the Operating Agreement signed between the Government and MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL), MTRCL has to regularly review and listen to views of passengers (including PwDs), with a view to providing appropriate facilities and service. There are generally two priority seats in every train car of the heavy rail, except Airport Express and Disneyland Resort Line (Note 2). Arrangements have been made to gradually increase the number of such seats to four since late 2013. For the Light Rail, there are six priority seats in every train compartment.

     As regards franchised buses, except for a small number of single-deck buses with only two priority seats, all franchised buses have four priority seats near the exit door. This accounts for 10% to 24% of the number of seats on the lower deck.

     Furthermore, an additional clause has been included in the three franchises (Note 3) commencing in mid-2013 to empower TD to require bus companies to enhance safety facilities and design. This includes purchasing new buses with barrier-free and elderly-friendly design. The Government will incorporate a similar provision to promote barrier-free facilities in the other three bus franchises (Note 4) after the current ones expire in 2016/17.

     As for other public transport modes, two priority seats are designated near the driver's seat on the lower deck of trams. Public light buses, taxis and ferries (Note 5) do not usually have priority seats as standing is generally not allowed on board. However, a small number of green minibuses (some 50 vehicles) do have a priority seat which is the first single-seat next to the entrance/exit door (Note 6).

     The proportion of priority seats of the above public transport modes is set out at Annex A. Currently, public transport operators, having regard to suggestions of the Government and members of the public and taking into account their operational situation and compartment configuration, have already designated priority seats. Also, staff members would help people in need to use such seats. We therefore do not see a need to set a mandatory requirement on the proportion of priority seats at this juncture. Having said that, we will monitor the situation closely. We will provide further guidelines as necessary bearing in mind views of passengers and the relevant groups.

     In addition to priority seats, different public transport modes have put in place suitable barrier-free facilities inside their compartments and at stations/platforms/piers based on the actual situation. Examples include MTR's wide gates and lifts connecting to the street level. For franchised buses, about 75% of the bus fleet comprises low-floor buses. Except for those buses running along road sections with steep gradient and sharp bend on Lantau Island, all buses newly purchased will be of a low-floor design to replace the old ones which are not low-floor. The replacement is expected to be completed within three years. Major barrier-free facilities provided by various public transport operators are set out at Annex B.

(3) Whilst hardware is needed to promote the use of priority seats and facilitate people with mobility difficulties, it is necessary for passengers to take the initiative not to occupy these seats unnecessarily and to offer seats to people in need. In fact, a good number of the public are willing to offer seats to people in need. Notwithstanding, we agree that it is necessary to step up publicity and education in order to further promote the culture of offering seats to people in need. While the Education Bureau and Committee on the Promotion of Civic Education of the Home Affairs Bureau will continue to promote the culture of courtesy and caring at school campuses and within the local community, we, together with public transport operators, would promote and publicise the messages through different ways. Currently, there is clear signage for priority seats to remind passengers to offer their seats to people in need. Meanwhile, MTRCL and franchised bus companies have produced video clips to encourage people to offer seats to people in need. The clips are broadcast on YouTube and via the audio-visual broadcasting system on buses. Also, franchised bus companies would call upon passengers to offer their seats to people in need through the bus stop announcement system.  

     The Hon Michael Tien mentioned the "Priority Seat Cards" issued by the Southern Railway Limited of the United Kingdom. Our understanding is that this measure merely facilitates a cardholder to request others to offer him/her a seat by showing the card. While this eliminates the embarrassment caused by having to explain to other passengers why a seat is needed, passengers are not obliged to offer their seats. At present, we understand that some cities in the United States, Canada and Australia mandate the offer of seats to people in need by law. Rather than by legal means, Asian cities such as Tokyo, Singapore and Taipei would promote such an act through the advocacy of a culture of courtesy.

Note 1: Representatives of the relevant government bureaux/departments (including the Transport and Housing Bureau, Labour and Welfare Bureau, Highways Department, etc.) would also be present. Meetings are held once in about every three to four months.

Note 2: The trains of these two rail lines do not come with priority seats owing to their relatively lower patronage. MTRCL will however monitor the situation and designate such seats as necessary.

Note 3: They are the franchises of New World First Bus Services Limited, Long Win Bus Company Limited, and Citybus Limited (Airport and North Lantau bus network).

Note 4: They are the franchises of Citybus (Hong Kong Island and cross-harbour bus network), New Lantao Bus Company (1973) Limited, and The Kowloon Motor Bus Company (1933) Limited.

Note 5: To facilitate visually-impaired passengers carrying guide dogs and persons accompanying wheelchair users, some ferry operators provide one to two designated seats for them at the more convenient spots on board.

Note 6: TD has produced stickers with the slogan of "Please offer your seat to those in need" for minibus operators to display inside vehicle compartments to remind passengers to offer their seats to people in need.

Ends/Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Issued at HKT 17:37


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