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LCQ8: Green minibus drivers

     Following is a question by the Hon Tang Ka-piu and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (February 24):


     In Hong Kong, the patronage of public light buses (PLBs) ranks the third among all modes of public transport, only after railway and franchised buses. On the other hand, some trade unions of green minibuses (GMBs) have pointed out that the problems of unsatisfactory remuneration and excessively long working hours, etc. persistently faced by PLB drivers have resulted in shortage and ageing of GMB drivers. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has grasped the statistics on GMB drivers in the past three years, including the number of GMB drivers, their average age, employment mode (i.e. being employed or self-employed), average weekly working hours, average monthly salary, and general conditions of service (e.g. the number of paid leave days); if it has, of the details;

(2) whether it has established a mechanism to discuss, on a regular basis, with stakeholders (including drivers, trade union representatives and operators) of the GMB trade, so as to understand the work arrangements and remuneration package for drivers, and to explore improvement measures; if it has not, of the reasons for that;

(3) given that the Transport Department (TD) had, in consultation with the GMB trade, devised guidelines on the working hours of PLB drivers, whether the authorities have regularly liaised with operators to gauge how far the guidelines have been complied with, and to ensure that PLB drivers are given adequate rest time, in order to safeguard road safety;

(4) whether it will consider introducing new measures to ensure that PLB drivers are given adequate rest time, including (i) setting maximum working hours, (ii) following the working and rest time arrangements for bus captains of franchised bus companies (e.g. providing rest breaks and setting fixed meal times), and (iii) with reference to TD's practice of issuing the Guidelines on Bus Captain Working Hours, Rest Times and Meal Breaks to franchised bus companies, issuing similar guidelines to the GMB trade; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) whether it knows the current number of GMB operators which have adopted the practice of using a certain percentage of trading receipts as the basis for calculating drivers' salaries (i.e. revenue sharing arrangement), the number of routes they operate, and the details of the revenue sharing arrangement; whether the authorities have formulated measures or policies (e.g. according priority to operators which have adopted a fixed pay system in granting operating rights) to encourage operators to adopt a fixed pay system, so as to attract more people to join the trade, and to prevent PLB drivers from driving at excessive speed in order to earn a higher income under the revenue sharing arrangement;

(6) as some GMB drivers have relayed to me that upon appointment, they are required by the operators to pay a specified amount of money to serve as the insurance excess when a traffic accident has occurred, and such an arrangement has resulted in serious wastage of serving drivers and new blood being deterred from joining the trade, whether the authorities have found out which operators require drivers to pay insurance excess at present, and the number of routes they operate; how the Government will address the problem;

(7) as some GMB drivers have relayed to me that the terms and conditions imposed by TD on operators in granting GMB operating rights may affect the work arrangements and remuneration package of GMB drivers, but as such terms and conditions have not been made public, it is therefore difficult for GMB drivers to judge whether the operators have complied with the relevant terms and conditions, whether the authorities can publicise such terms and conditions in future; if they cannot, of the reasons for that; and

(8) as some PLB drivers have pointed out that the authorities are conducting studies on increasing the seating capacity of PLBs, and the workload of PLB drivers will increase with the addition of passenger seats of PLBs, whether the authorities will, in conducting such studies, explore ways to ensure that GMB drivers will have a share of the economic gains generated by the increase in the seating capacity of PLBs; if they will, of their plans; if not, the reasons for that?



     Pursuant to the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap 374), each green minibus (GMB) operator (operator) must obtain a Passenger Service Licence (PSL) issued by the Transport Department (TD) before it can operate GMB service. Each PSL stipulates the Public Light Bus (Scheduled) Service Conditions (PSL conditions). Such conditions include, among others, the requirement that an operator must run the service according to the service details (including the routeing, fares, service frequency and vehicle deployment) approved by TD. The PSL conditions also regulate other operational arrangements (such as requirements with respect to vehicle conditions and that the vehicle shall be driven only by persons employed by the licensee). PSL conditions applicable to GMB routes gazetted in or after 2002 are at Annex 1. In addition, an operator must implement any commitments made in its PSL application, including any arrangements relating to the provision of allowance or incentive to drivers. TD maintains regular contact with an operator, conducts surprise inspections and carries out PSL mid-term review to ensure the operator's compliance with PSL conditions and implementation of its commitments.

     To ensure that an operator will provide service in accordance with the operating hours and service frequency set by TD and can effectively monitor service quality, it is a PSL condition that an operator must have an employment relationship with its drivers. Same as the employment arrangements in other sectors, employment of drivers by an operator must comply with the Employment Ordinance (Cap 57) and other relevant legal requirements, including those concerning rest days and holidays. Specific terms of employment (such as actual wages and working hours) are agreed between the employers and the employees.

     My reply to various parts of the Hon Tang Ka-piu's question is as follows:

(1) to (6) Based on information collected from the operators by TD in 2012 and 2015, the number of GMB drivers employed remained stable at around 8 000. Of these drivers, around 80 per cent were aged between 50 and 69. Owing to the limitation of statistical information collected, we are unable to provide the average age of drivers. The proportion of drivers being employed on a full-time basis remained at about 70-80 per cent.

     According to information provided by the operators, as at end-2015, the number of duty hours (including rest time) of a full-time driver, depending on the operational needs and actual arrangements of the different routes (for example, some drivers only work for the peak-hour shift in the morning and/or evening), is about six to 13 hours per day. As mentioned above, arrangements with respect to rest days and holidays must comply with the statutory requirements.

     In terms of salary, depending on the actual number of duty hours, the basic salary of each shift was about $330 to $690. For over 80 per cent of the routes (i.e. about 300 routes), drivers were employed on the basis of basic salary or basic salary plus fixed-rate allowance. Drivers of the remaining routes (i.e. about 50 routes) were employed on the basis of basic salary plus revenue sharing or solely revenue sharing. It is understood that some operators also provided their drivers with meal allowance, safety bonus, overtime allowance and/or holiday allowance. TD does not have any statistical information on the so-called "insurance excess" paid by some public light bus (PLB) drivers to their operators.

     With reference to the "Guidelines on Bus Captains Working Hours, Rest Times and Meal Breaks" issued to franchised bus companies, and having consulted the trade, TD promulgated the "Guidelines on Working Hours of GMB Drivers" (Guidelines) in 2000. The Guidelines covers the maximum number of duty hours and driving hours for drivers (a copy of the Guidelines is provided at Annex 2). These upper limits are similar to those set out in the relevant guidelines for bus captains of franchised buses. As mentioned above, the number of duty hours of a full-time GMB driver is about six to 13 hours per day. The work arrangements for these drivers should generally conform to the Guidelines.

     TD holds regular trade meetings with the operators to discuss matters such as manpower and working hours of drivers. TD also maintains close contact with individual operators regarding their service management and operational matters on a need basis. Should GMB drivers have any views on their work arrangements, TD stands ready to help reflect such views to the operators. At the most recent trade meeting (in December 2015), TD once again reminded the operators to plan work arrangements for drivers in accordance with the Guidelines. The department will continue to maintain communication with the trade from time to time about the working hours and other work arrangements of drivers. If necessary, TD will consider if there is a need to revise the Guidelines. Since the operators are generally small and mid-sized ones, the number of persons employed is relatively small. More flexibility may be needed in terms of manpower deployment and work arrangements to meet passenger demand.

     The Government understands that the GMB trade has in recent years been experiencing the ageing of drivers and facing difficulties in their recruitment of drivers. TD has liaised with the Labour Department and arranged operators to join job fairs organised by the latter. In addition, TD has approached the Correctional Services Department as well as supporting agencies for ethnic minorities and rehabilitated persons. Operators have been encouraged to employ ethnic minorities or rehabilitated persons. It is understood that in order to meet service demand, particularly that during peak hours, some operators have already increased their drivers' salary, deployed manpower in a flexible manner and recruited part-time drivers.

(7) Currently, details of the GMB routes, including information on routeing, operating hours, service frequency and fares, are already uploaded to TD's website. PSL conditions issued to operators by TD may be provided to members of the public upon request. In future, TD will consider uploading the information to its website for easy perusal by the public at all times.

(8) As we have informed the Legislative Council Panel on Transport (Panel) before, the operating environment of PLBs has become increasingly difficult in recent years. Nearly 60 per cent of the route packages were operating at a loss. Having regard to the cost and manpower issues, there are views from the trade suggesting an increase of seating capacity of PLBs. Meanwhile, although the demand for PLB service has remained generally stable in the past few years, there are quite a number of routes with considerable patronage and may even be in short supply during peak hours. There are also requests from the community for increasing the seating capacity of PLBs. The Government has thus accorded priority to studying increasing the seating capacity of PLBs under the Public Transport Strategy Study.

     In the course of the study, we will examine in detail the impact of increasing the seating capacity on the PLB trade, other public transport services, traffic management, etc. It is worth noting that while increasing the seating capacity may increase the farebox revenue, the operating costs would also be on the rise. Therefore, whether the proposal can help improve the overall operating environment of the PLB trade would require an in-depth study. If the proposal can indeed help improve the overall operating environment of PLBs, we trust that it should also bring positive impact on operators on recruitment and retention of drivers.

     We will brief the Panel on the progress of the study in mid-2016, and will strive to complete the study in the third quarter of 2016. If the outcome of the study confirms the feasibility of the proposal of increasing the seating capacity of PLBs, we will immediately commence the preparation for introducing legislative amendments so as to enable an early implementation of the proposal.

Ends/Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:19


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