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LC Urgent Q5: "Occupy Central" movement's impact on economy and people's livelihood

     Following is an urgent question by the Hon Tam Yiu-chung under Rule 24(4) of the Rules of Procedure and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (October 15):


     It has been learnt that as the assemblies triggered by the Occupy Central movement have been going on for 10-odd days until now causing a number of major trunk roads on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon being blocked by assembly participants, services of over 200 public bus routes, over 20 green minibus routes and the trams have been affected. As the alternative roads in the affected districts have limited capacity, extensive traffic congestion is common in such districts with tailbacks once reaching over 20 kilometres, thus seriously affecting the daily lives of members of the public and business operation. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as the railway has now become the only mode of transport for the majority of the public, whether the authorities have forthwith formulated contingency plans to cope with the scenario in which train service of any railway line, particularly the Island Line, Tsuen Wan Line and Kwun Tong Line, is suspended due to occurrence of incidents, so as to prevent the traffic on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon coming to a halt; if they have, of the details; if not, whether they will formulate such contingency plans right away;

(2) as quite a number of small business operators engaged in the transportation, retail, catering and tourism industries have relayed to me that their businesses have been hard hit by the road blockages and their employees have also suddenly lost their means of living, whether the authorities have forthwith assessed the losses suffered by these industries and introduced targeted emergency relief measures for such industries on the basis of the assessment outcome; if they have, of the details; if not, whether they will conduct such an assessment right away; and

(3) whether it has formulated contingency plans to ensure that, in the event of occurrence of major traffic accidents, fires or industrial accidents, etc., emergency service vehicles (including police vehicles, fire engines and ambulances) and their personnel can arrive at the scene in the shortest possible time; if it has, of the details; if not, whether it will formulate such contingency plans right away?



     The illegal assemblies triggered by the "Occupy Central" movement have been going on for ten-odd days. They cause congestion in major trunk roads on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon, and severely affect the lives of the general public. Various District Offices have received a large number of complaints from parents, students, business owners and employees regarding the traffic congestion in Central and Western, Wanchai and Mong Kok, which has seriously affected the daily lives, schooling and business of many.  

     The Government respects the right to the freedom of expression. However, at the same time we request that the public should, when expressing views, abide by law, respect the rights of other road users and take into account the interest of the general public. We have been urging participants of the illegal assembly to end their concerned actions in various districts and suggesting them to use the Tamar Park and the Central and Western District Promenade (Central Section), the Lawn in Victoria Park and the MacPherson Playground in Mong Kok, which are larger in size and will not disrupt traffic or the daily lives of the public. Unfortunately, these suggestions have not been positively responded to by the road occupants.

     The Administration's reply to various parts of the question is as follows:

(1) Since the start of the "Occupy Central" movement, we have seen serious impact extensively on the road transport services on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon as a result of road closure and traffic diversion.

     As regards railway services (except for Light Rail), the highest daily patronage during the past ten-plus days (i.e. October 3) is about 5.8 million. This is 13 per cent higher than a normal Friday daily patronage of about 5.1 million. Train compartments are very crowded and passengers usually have to wait for several trains more and spend more time for boarding. Without compromising railway safety and apart from continuing to run at 2 minutes peak headway from 7.15am, the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) has also enhanced day-time train services as necessary. Although the increased frequency of train services will not affect railway safety, given that the 2 minutes peak headway for Kwun Tong Line, Tsuen Wan Line and Island Line has already reached the limit of the existing signalling system and that train services being provided in other hours of the day-time are close to the system limit as well, the risk of service disruption will naturally increase if this situation persists. In addition, MTRCL has deployed additional staff for maintaining effective passenger flow management in the past ten-plus days in accordance with established procedures. Having regard to the actual situation, it has also implemented further passenger flow management measures at some stations with higher volume of passenger flow such as Admiralty and Mong Kok, etc., to ensure smooth train operation and passenger safety.

     MTRCL has all along drawn up contingency plans for various service disruption situations specific to the needs of individual stations.  When any contingency plan is activated, MTRCL will suitably adjust its railway services to minimise the impact and arrange free MTR shuttle buses to ease passenger flow.

     As some trunk roads affected by the "Occupy Central" movement are still closed, MTRCL will have rather limited ability to deploy shuttle buses and ease passenger flow even if a contingency plan is activated, depending on the extent and duration of service disruption as well as the locations and number of affected MTR stations.

     As for bus services, the highest number of bus routes affected during the past ten-plus days (i.e. September 30) is 270, accounting for about 48 per cent of all bus routes in Hong Kong, and these included 77 suspended routes and 193 diverted routes. As at yesterday (October 14), despite some roads such as Queensway having been re-opened, 227 bus routes were still affected, accounting for about 40 per cent of all bus routes in Hong Kong, and these included 11 suspended routes and 216 diverted routes. Regarding the most affected areas on Hong Kong Island, as at yesterday (October 14), about 64 per cent of Hong Kong Island bus routes were still affected. In addition, Hong Kong Tramways services between Island East and Island West have been suspended and only sectional services are provided. Green minibuses and taxis are also affected due to road blockage or traffic congestion.

     In this regard, the Government expresses heartfelt gratitude to public transport service operators which have been working closely with the Transport Department (TD) during this period of time, especially for the strenuous efforts of their frontline staff in maintaining smooth provision of transport services. Meanwhile, the Government is also very grateful to members of the public who have been exercising the greatest tolerance and have changed their travelling patterns such as reducing the use of private cars and setting off early etc., to help relieve the pressure on roads.

(2) Since the start of the "Occupy Central" movement, various public transport services including buses, trams, minibuses and taxis have been affected. For example, some members from the minibus and taxi trades express that their business turnovers have dropped significantly due to factors such as traffic congestion, road diversion and a drop in business. The Government will closely monitor the situation and maintain close dialogue with operators to understand their needs. Trucks and other commercial vehicles are also affected to different extents depending on their individual business operation. For example, some trucks have experienced delay in delivery and increase in operating cost due to lengthened route and travelling time.  

     In addition, the Government has been closely monitoring the impact of the "Occupy Central" on different sectors. Those sectors being directly affected include retail, tourism, catering and transportation, etc. Other sectors may also be indirectly affected. The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau has met with 20 commerce organisations or associations of different trades to understand the impact of the "Occupy Central" movement on business operation. According to the information obtained during the meetings, the business of the retailers near areas of protests and illegal occupation was most adversely affected. The drop in business of small and medium enterprise (SME) retailers in Mong Kok, Causeway Bay or Tsim Sha Tsui was as high as 80 per cent. Some trade associations also learnt that some overseas clients cancelled their business trips to Hong Kong. As for the tourism sector, the business of hotels and tourist attractions in individual districts (e.g. areas from Central to Wanchai) has also been affected. The trade is worried that if the situation continues, it would affect the livelihood of frontline employees of the tourism industry, and reduces the desire of visitors (including business and leisure travellers) to visit Hong Kong. This would inevitably give a blow to the tourism industry in Hong Kong during the peak tourism season in the coming few months. The overall actual impact can only be ascertained upon the release of economic data in the next quarter.

     If the "Occupy Central" movement continues, SMEs will be most hard hit. At present, the Government has a series of cross-sector schemes that provide assistance to SMEs, including the on-going SME Loan Guarantee Scheme administered by the Trade and Industry Department and the special concessionary measures under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme of the Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation Limited. Enterprises affected by the "Occupy Central" movement and facing financial difficulties may consider applying for the two schemes above.

     The Government will closely monitor the situation and further assess the impact on economic development when more data is available.

(3) Risk assessments and contingency plans have all along been made by Government departments in relation to various types of major incidents, which include the deployment of resources and manpower required for handling emergencies, in order to handle emergency incidents arisen from such circumstances.  

     In the past ten odd days, the illegal occupation of a number of major trunk roads by assembly participants on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon has resulted in serious traffic congestion. Emergency vehicles need to detour. Various Government departments have been monitoring and assessing the development with a view to making corresponding arrangements. Responses to some emergency calls have, however, inevitably been delayed. For example, the Response Time performance for emergency ambulance services in Central (including Admiralty), Causeway Bay and Wanchai, and Mong Kok was 75.9 per cent, 89.1 per cent and 93.7 per cent from September 28 to October 13, which showed decreases as compared to figures before the "Occupy Central" movement. Some cases also experienced delay ranging from 20 to 40 minutes.  

     To ensure that police vehicles, fire appliances and ambulances can promptly reach the scene for emergency services, departments concerned have been working closely to provide emergency vehicles with information on the fastest route to the scene in a timely manner. In collaboration with the Police, other relevant departments and public transport service operators, the Emergency Transport Co-ordination Centre of TD closely monitors the traffic conditions of the areas concerned and takes co-ordinating action. In addition, to minimise traffic disruption caused by road blockage, officers from the Transport Division of Police conduct real-time traffic control and direction along the affected areas so as to divert and ease traffic. When necessary, the Fire Services Department will despatch vehicles in duo to the scene by taking different routes, i.e. vehicles from different fire stations or ambulance depots will be despatched, to ensure that at least one of the two vehicles from either direction can reach the scene swiftly. This is to minimise the impact on fire-fighting or ambulance services for the sick and injured resulting from such traffic delay. However, we consider such arrangement highly unsatisfactory as it will thin out the resources of emergency services for other districts, thereby affecting the emergency fire and ambulance services provided for members of the public and the sick and injured in other areas.  

     Again, I urge all protesters, who have illegally occupied the roads for a long span of time, to remove their obstacles as soon as possible and to leave in an orderly manner, so that the roads can be reopened to emergency vehicles for provision of timely emergency rescue services to those in need.

Ends/Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Issued at HKT 18:59


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