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LCQ11: Operation of public light buses

     Following is a question by the Hon Michael Tien and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (December 17):


     Some public light bus (PLB) operators have relayed to me that the current policy of treating railway as the backbone of Hong Kong's public transport system has led to the continued expansion of the areas covered by railway services. Moreover, while other public transport services are also developing continuously, only PLB service remains stagnant, resulting in a continued decline in PLBs' patronage. On the other hand, the Government has, since August 1, 2004, required all newly registered PLBs be fitted with passenger seat belts. However, currently quite a number of old PLBs are not yet fitted with seat belts to strengthen the protection for passengers' safety. Regarding the improvement of the business environment for and facilities of PLBs, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as some PLB associations have proposed that the statutory ceiling for passenger seating capacity of PLBs be raised from 16 to 20 seats in view of the fact that currently many minibuses of new models are already fitted with 20 seats when they were manufactured, so that under the premise of no increase in the number of PLBs (thereby not generating additional road traffic load), PLBs' carrying capacity will be increased and the use of roads will be more effective, whether the Government will consider afresh adopting the proposal; if it will, of the details and implementation timetable; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) as the existing legislation provides that PLBs may not operate on new expressways (such as Tsing Ma Bridge) or in new towns (such as Tung Chung) and new housing developments where adequate public transport services are planned, and the new towns have been well developed in recent years, whether the Government will review if such restrictions are outdated, and consider relaxing them; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) given that new railway lines have been completed and commissioned one after another in recent years, including the West Island Line which will be partially commissioned at the end of this month, and the businesses of PLBs running to and from Hong Kong Island West and other districts will thus be affected, whether the Government has consulted the green minibus operators prior to the commissioning of the West Island Line regarding the arrangements for rationalisation of their service routes; whether it has plans to expeditiously cancel the "no stopping" zones for PLBs on Hong Kong Island, so as to give PLBs more business opportunities, thereby protecting the livelihood of PLB drivers; and

(4) given that the requirement for PLB passengers to wear seat belts has been implemented for a decade, whether it has evaluated the effectiveness of the requirement; if it has, of the details; whether the Government will consider introducing measures to encourage PLB operators to replace their buses with new ones, so as to ensure that all passenger seats of PLBs be fitted with seat belts?



     Under the current public transport policy, railway is the backbone of our public transport system complemented by other public transport services. Public light buses (PLBs) play an important role by, inter alia, providing feeder service to public transport interchanges, and serving areas where passenger demand is comparatively lower or the use of high-capacity transport modes is not suitable. With the opening of the West Island Line (WIL) by the end of this month and four other new railway lines successively in the next few years, the role of railway in the public transport system will increase. The Government would carefully co-ordinate other public transport services, including PLB service, to ensure their healthy development.  

     In terms of PLB service, green minibuses (GMBs) provide fixed route services with regulated alignments, frequencies and fares. Red minibuses (RMBs), though subject to certain restrictions in their service areas, can provide more flexible services through market-driven alignments, frequencies and fares. Since the PLBs mainly serve a complementary role in the public transport system, a statutory cap of 4 350 has been set on the total number of the two types of PLBs.

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

(1) The GMB trade has suggested that the seating capacity of a PLB should be increased from 16 to 20. If the seating capacity of all PLBs increases accordingly, it would represent an increase of 25% in total passenger capacity, which is equivalent to an addition of 1 087 16-seat PLBs. In other words, increasing the number of passenger seats would consequentially increase the overall capacity of PLBs. In considering whether the suggestion is feasible and desirable, the Government has to study the long-term operational and financial implications for the PLB trade and the impact on other public transport services and road traffic management. One of the issues of concern would be the overall supply of and demand for public transport services as well as the division of labour among the different modes. In this connection, the Government has earlier advised at a meeting of the Panel on Transport of the Legislative Council that it would explore this suggestion together with other related issues in detail under the Public Transport Strategy Study just launched.

     Meanwhile, the Transport Department (TD) will continue to implement various measures to help the GMB trade improve their operating environment. Such measures include rationalising GMB routes and adjusting service timetables as necessary, and assisting operators to deploy vehicles flexibly during peak hours as far as practicable to meet passenger demand. The TD also encourages operators to explore sources of non-fare box revenue (such as advertisements on vehicle bodies or inside compartments) to increase their income.

(2) Under the current policy, the TD may, according to passenger needs, arrange GMBs to provide service in different areas in Hong Kong and to use newly commissioned expressways. If the TD considers that PLB service should be introduced in a certain area having regard to various factors including passenger demand and other public transport services available, GMB service will be arranged. Indeed, GMB service is available in new towns developed in earlier years, such as Tsing Yi and Ma On Shan, as well as in places such as Tseung Kwan O and Kai Tak which are still developing. Regarding the proposed introduction of GMB service in Tung Chung, the TD will continue to keep in view the situation, including the development of the area and its population growth. The TD would consider strengthening public transport services according to demand where necessary, and whether it is feasible and desirable to introduce GMB service will be one of the options considered.

     As for RMBs, owing to the need to step up traffic management, the Government has since mid-1970s restricted RMBs from providing service in newly developed areas with a comprehensive rail and bus network and from using newly commissioned expressways. Since the service alignments and frequencies of RMBs are not subject to regulation, these restrictions are still in force for maintaining effective traffic management. However, the TD can allow minor relaxation on a case-by-case basis where there is genuine demand and so long as other public transport services and road traffic will not be affected. For example, the TD has allowed RMBs to use certain road sections of the West Kowloon Corridor and Island Eastern Corridor since late 1990s.  

     If the RMB trade would like to seek partial relaxation of individual prohibited zones and passenger pick-up/drop-off restricted zones within their approved service areas, the TD will conduct careful assessment having regard to the actual situation of the road sections concerned. Factors for consideration include whether the relaxation will affect overall road traffic and other public transport services, the safety of passengers and drivers and pick-up/drop-off arrangements for other types of vehicles. The TD will allow appropriate relaxation if the impact of such relaxation is considered to be limited and the proposal is supported by the local community.

(3) When mapping out public transport arrangements upon the opening of the WIL, the Government consulted relevant GMB operators and other stakeholders, and sought the views of PLB associations on the ancillary arrangements for feeder PLB service connecting the new railway stations. While the opening of the WIL will present challenges for the PLB trade, it will also bring new opportunities for PLBs to capitalise on their feeder role to absorb new patronage brought about by the new railway stations. To tie in with the opening of the WIL by the end of December this year, the Government will introduce three new railway feeder GMB routes connecting Southern District and Kennedy Town Station. The Government will also make appropriate ancillary arrangements to facilitate passengers to interchange between PLBs and the railway. Such arrangements include the setting up of GMB stops at Kennedy Town Station and PLB pick-up/drop-off points in the vicinity. As regards the PLB trade's request for relaxation of prohibited zones and passenger pick-up/drop-off restricted zones on Hong Kong Island for PLBs after the opening of the WIL, the TD will conduct careful assessment taking into account the factors mentioned in Part 2 of this reply.

(4) PLB passengers wearing seat belts will help minimise the chance of injury in traffic accidents. The Government has been enhancing PLB passengers' awareness of wearing seat belts installed on passenger seats through enforcement action, publicity campaigns and educational activities, etc. In addition, the Government has required all PLBs registered on or after August 1, 2004 to be equipped with seat belts on passenger seats.

     To encourage owners of old PLBs to replace their vehicles with more environmental-friendly new models (which are fitted with passenger seat belts), the Environmental Protection Department has on several occasions provided subsidies to the trades, such as granting of subsidies to owners of pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles (including PLBs) with effect from March this year to encourage them to switch to greener and newer models. These incentive schemes for vehicle replacement will help increase the number of PLBs fitted with passenger seat belts. As at end November 2014, more than 60% of PLBs have already been fitted with passenger seat belts. It is envisaged that with newer models of PLBs progressively replacing older ones, there will be more PLBs fitted with passenger seat belts.  

     TD will continue to liaise with the PLB trade and encourage them to install passenger seat belts on PLBs currently not fitted with passenger seat belts, or replacing these PLBs with newer vehicles installed with passenger seat belts.

Ends/Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:31


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