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LCQ2: Light Rail service

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Che-cheung and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (January 28):


     It is learnt that with the completion of a number of public and private housing development projects in Tuen Mun and Yuen Long providing a total of some 140 000 residential units over the next decade, the population in the Northwest New Territories is expected to increase by about 400 000. Given that information from the Census and Statistics Department indicates that the average daily patronage of the Light Rail (LR) in September 2014 was as high as more than 500 000 passenger trips, some people are concerned that LR will have difficulties in meeting the transport needs of the existing and the additional population, and that the aging of the LR system has caused frequent occurrence of incidents in recent years.  Moreover, the fare concessions of LR offered by the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) are inadequate. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the respective numbers of service disruptions of LR and traffic accidents involving LR as well as the resultant casualties, in each of the past three years; and the number of cases among such service disruptions in which MTRCL was fined under the Service Performance Arrangement and the amounts of fines involved respectively;

(2) given that MTRCL currently implements monthly pass schemes for several railway lines but does not offer similar fare concessions for LR, except for free interchange of LR provided for West Rail passengers only, whether the authorities will suggest MTRCL to consider reintroducing the monthly pass scheme for LR so as to alleviate the financial burden of residents who frequently take LR, such as those who work or study in the districts as well as housewives; if they will not, of the reasons for that; and

(3) given that the Secretary for Transport and Housing, in response to a motion on "Enhancing the railway service in the Northwest New Territories" moved by me at a Legislative Council meeting in December 2013, stated that upon the completion of the study for the review and update of the Railway Development Strategy 2000, the Government would commence studies on the long-term development and management of public transport in the territory, including a review on the LR system, when the authorities will start the review on the LR system, and whether the scope of the review will include LR's retention or otherwise and the conversion of parts of the LR tracks to viaduct or underground sections?



     According to the Development Bureau, there are 14 and 24 sites in Yuen Long and Tuen Mun respectively which have been identified as having the potential to be rezoned for public and private housing development. If they are rezoned as planned, these sites can be made available for housing development in the coming five years, providing about 42 000 and 40 700 residential units respectively. The Government has also been actively taking forward the West Rail property development projects and the successfully tendered projects will provide about 5 800 residential units. A number of development studies and land use reviews on various areas in the Northwest New Territories, including Hung Shui Kiu, Kam Tin South, Pat Heung and Yuen Long South, are being carried out. It is expected that a small number of residential units may be completed in these areas in the next decade. The figure of 140 000 residential units mentioned by the Hon Leung Che-cheung cannot be verified for the time being. Nevertheless, population growth in the Northwest New Territories is a trend.

     My reply to the various parts of the Hon Leung's question is as follows.

(1) The MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) arranges regular maintenance for various components (such as vehicles, trains, tracks and overhead lines) of the railway system, which includes Light Rail, to ensure railway safety and reliability.  In case of incidents, MTRCL will carry out in-depth investigation in the first instance and adopt improvement measures to prevent future occurrence.

     In the past three years (ie 2012, 2013 and 2014), with Light Rail vehicle trips totalling more than 1 million per year, there were 29, 27 and 33 service disruptions of eight minutes or above respectively occurred in the Light Rail network. Amongst them, there were two, one and three service disruptions of 31 minutes or above respectively. Under the "Service Performance Arrangement", MTRCL was fined $4 million, $15 million and $8 million respectively as a result of these service disruptions. Proceeds are put into a fare concession account and returned to passengers vide the "10% Same-Day Second-Trip Discount" scheme, in accordance with the provisions of the Fare Adjustment Mechanism.

     In the past three years, according to MTRCL, the number of traffic accidents involving Light Rail were 20, 27 and 29.  Twelve, 21 and 16 cases involved casualties of 73, 105 and 46 respectively.  Among the casualties, there were two deaths in two accidents occurred in 2013.

(2) The Government has been encouraging MTRCL to review from time to time the effectiveness of existing fare concession schemes, and actively consider the feasibility of introducing new schemes to respond to the needs of different passenger groups, having regard to the outcome of the review on the Fare Adjustment Mechanism and the balance between the Corporation's financial prudence as a listed company and corporate social responsibilities as a public utility.

     Currently, the fare concessions which can be enjoyed by Light Rail passengers using Octopus Card include the "10% Same-Day Second-Trip Discount" scheme, "MTR Student Travel Scheme" and "Light Rail Bonus Scheme". In addition, passengers of West Rail Line can enjoy free rides on Light Rail if they use Octopus Card or hold the "Monthly Pass Extra". According to MTRCL, these fare concession schemes cater for the needs of different passenger groups, and are more effective in meeting the needs of frequent Light Rail passengers than launching Light Rail monthly pass scheme with fixed prices. In fact, about one-third of Light Rail passengers (ie about 160 000 passenger trips per day) enjoy free rides on Light Rail under the current interchange promotion.  Together with the other fare concession schemes, the remaining two-third of Light Rail passengers are only charged at an average fare of about $3.5 per ride.   MTRCL will continue to keep an eye on market conditions, review existing fare concession schemes, and consider whether to introduce new ones.

(3) The Transport and Housing Bureau will carry out the Public Transport Strategy Study (PTSS) to systematically review the respective roles and positioning of public transport services (including Light Rail) other than heavy rail.

     In the Role and Positioning Review of PTSS, we will examine the long-term development of Light Rail. Major topics to be covered include the feasibility of increasing carrying capacity with the original design of the Light Rail system; the feasibility of upgrading the design of the existing Light Rail system to increase the carrying capacity; the long-term demand of Northwest New Territories for public transport services; and the development of various public transport services including Light Rail in meeting such demand. We will commence the review immediately after the resources and manpower required are approved under the established procedures. We will also engage a consultant to offer necessary assistance.

     Some people have raised the issue on whether we should put an end to Light Rail. Light Rail, which currently carries nearly half a million passenger trips per day, is now taking on dual roles: on one hand, it provides feeder service for the West Rail Line; on the other hand, it serves as an important public transport mode within the Northwest New Territories.  In this regard, the Government will not prematurely give up Light Rail. For the time being, the crux of the matter is how the functions of Light Rail can be enhanced. When contemplating the future development of Light Rail, we should, at the same time, review the overall transport infrastructure of the Northwest New Territories in a holistic manner. We are at the moment open to various options with regard to the future development of Light Rail, and we will fully consider the technical and financial feasibility of any proposal, as well as its impact on the transport arrangement of the relevant districts.

Ends/Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Issued at HKT 14:36


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