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LCQ11: Fare payment system of franchised buses

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Kwok-hing and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (June 24):


     It has been reported that in recent years, quite a number of franchised bus passengers have found that they were not given bus-bus interchange fare concessions when they interchanged for franchised buses of other routes using Octopus cards, resulting in their being overcharged. They have to lodge complaints with the franchised bus companies (bus companies) on their own initiative and go through complicated procedures before they can recover the overcharged fares. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) in each of the past five years, of (i) the total number of complaints received by the authorities and bus companies about overcharging of fares by bus companies (with a breakdown by bus company concerned and cause for overcharging), (ii) the respective total amounts of fares claimed by the complainants and refunded to them, and (iii) the longest and the shortest time taken by the bus companies concerned from commencement of an investigation into a complaint to a refund of the fares overcharged;

(2) whether, in the past five years, the authorities issued any warning to and imposed any fine on bus companies under the Public Bus Services Ordinance (Cap. 230) for overcharging of fares; if they did, of the number of warnings issued and the total amount of fines imposed each year, broken down by bus company;

(3) whether it knows if the bus companies currently have required their bus drivers to take the initiative to report incidents of overcharging of fares; if they have, of the number of reports received by the bus companies in the past five years; whether the bus companies are required under the existing legislation to take the initiative to contact the affected passengers and refund them the overcharged fares; if not, by what means such passengers are required to prove that they have been overcharged in order to get refunded the overcharged fares; and

(4) as I have learned that bus drivers currently need to set up bus-bus interchange fare concessions by manually adjusting the Octopus processors during the journey, which may result in overcharging of fares due to human errors, and that the procedures for passengers to recover the overcharged fares are too complicated (e.g. passengers have to get the relevant transaction records as proof from the Octopus Company Limited (OCL) for a fee), whether the authorities will demand the bus companies to review their refund procedures and ask OCL to waive the aforesaid fee; whether the authorities will demand the bus companies to improve the existing ways for setting up bus-bus interchange fare concessions so as to avoid overcharging of fares due to human errors?



     At present, about 3.9 million passenger trips are made on franchised buses every day. 90 per cent of them involve payment of fares by Octopus cards. To ensure the proper operation of the fare payment system, the Transport Department (TD) requires the franchised bus operators to arrange system checks and maintenance from time to time, and submit quarterly reports to the TD on overcharging of fares. Reported items include the number of complaints, causes of overcharging, amount of refunds, etc. After reviewing the reports, the TD may require the operators to take appropriate follow-up actions where necessary.

     My consolidated reply to the various parts of the Hon Wong Kwok-hing's question is as follows.

     In the past five years, the TD and the operators received on average about 30 and 7 000 complaints respectively about overcharging of fares each year. This corresponds to an average of about six complaints per million transactions involving payment of fares by Octopus cards. About 30 per cent of the complaints did not involve overcharging of fares, as the passengers either mistook routes without bus-bus interchange fare concessions for routes with such concessions, or failed to interchange for the specified bus routes within the specified period. As for those overcharging cases, the annual total amount of refunds to passengers by each operator ranged from an average of around $400 to $19,000 in the past five years. Currently, the Octopus processors on franchised buses are operated manually by bus captains. The major causes of overcharging of fares are bus captains' failure to adjust the processors correctly, loading of incorrect data to the processors, and malfunctioning of the processors. Details of the complaints in the past five years are at Annex.

     The operators have all along been taking active measures (such as reminding bus captains to adjust the Octopus processors correctly through training courses, staff publications and notices) to prevent similar situation. The TD has also written to the operators from time to time requesting them to tackle the issue seriously and take appropriate preventive measures. Having regard to the situation of overcharging, the amount involved, and the operators' proactive attitude in dealing with the situation, there is so far no need for the TD to issue any warning to or impose any fine on any operators. The department, however, will continue to monitor the situation.

     For a passenger who suspects an overcharging of fares and lodges a complaint, he/she only needs to provide his/her Octopus card number and bus journey information (such as the bus routes concerned, and the approximate date and time of the journey) to the operator concerned. The Octopus card transaction record is not required. Upon receiving a complaint and all necessary information, an operator can usually complete its investigation in about a week's time. For substantiated cases, the operator will contact the passenger concerned as soon as possible to arrange a refund. The refund can usually be made within three weeks in the way preferred by the passenger (e.g. through mailing of cheque to the passenger, making a deposit into the passenger's bank account or arranging for collection of a cash refund at a customer service centre in person).

     All operators require their bus captains to report overcharging cases for prompt follow-up actions. However, as the operators cannot ascertain the identity of individual passengers from the Octopus card transaction records alone, they are unable to proactively contact affected passengers. At present, one operator, upon discovery of overcharging of fares, would put up notices at the bus stops concerned to inform passengers of the refund arrangement. The TD and all operators will explore how best to disseminate refund information to the passengers.  

     Owing to the substantial number of bus-bus interchange combinations and fare concessions, manually operated payment system does give rise to occasional human errors. The TD and the operators are further exploring the causes and commonalities of the overcharging cases to see how best to avoid human errors. To completely prevent human errors, the most effective solution may be to adopt a payment system which can detect the location of a bus and automatically adjust the fare accordingly. However, the use of such a system would concern more complex issues such as whether the technology is mature and making a capital investment. The operators have already started to look into this and the TD will keep in view the progress closely.

Ends/Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Issued at HKT 14:31


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