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LCQ7: Non-franchised bus

     Following is a question by the Hon Poon Siu-ping and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (March 16):


     Under the law, all operators providing non-franchised public bus services (operators) must hold valid passenger service licences (PSLs) and, in respect of the buses used for the provision of such services, must hold valid passenger service licence certificates and be issued with the relevant service endorsements (e.g. hotel service endorsements for providing carriage service for hotel guests) by the Transport Department (TD). However, some operators have relayed to me that since only after a hotel has officially opened for business does TD accept the relevant application for hotel service endorsement, newly opened hotels cannot immediately provide carriage service for their guests. The PSLs of some operators have been suspended because these operators used non-franchised public buses not issued with hotel service endorsements to provide guest carriage service for newly opened hotels. Regarding the issuance of hotel service endorsements for non-franchised public buses, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of cases in which the authorities conducted inquiries, in each of the past five years, into operators' using non-franchised public buses not issued with hotel service endorsements to provide guest carriage service for hotels, with a breakdown of such numbers by the punishments imposed on the operators concerned;

(2) whether the authorities will review the policy on issuance of hotel service endorsements, such as permitting operators to lodge advance applications before the hotels open for business; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3) given that operators, once their PSLs have been suspended, are not permitted to provide other carriage services (such as student service and residents' service) during the suspension period, whether the authorities have assessed the impacts of such punishments on the operators and users of the services concerned; if they have, of the outcome, including whether the authorities will review the practice of imposing such punishments on offending operators; if not, the reasons for that?



     My consolidated reply to the various parts of the Hon Poon Siu-ping's question is as follows.

     Under the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap. 374) (the Ordinance) and its subsidiary legislations, all operators of non-franchised bus (NFB) services must hold a Passenger Service Licence (PSL). Subject to the scale of operation, one or more NFBs may be registered under a single PSL. Each NFB must have a PSL Certificate and the relevant service endorsement(s) (Note) for the service that it provides. For example, an NFB providing hotel service has to have a hotel service endorsement. While one or more service endorsements may be in force in respect of a single NFB, the total number of endorsements granted to each vehicle normally does not exceed four. In other words, an NFB may provide one or more types of service to enhance the operational efficiency of the fleet. As at end-February 2016, there were a total of around 7 000 NFBs in the market. More than 1 700 of them have a hotel service endorsement.

     According to the Ordinance, the holder of a PSL shall comply with the licensing conditions for an NFB and PSL conditions. If an NFB operates without authorisation (such as providing services not permitted by the service endorsement(s)), or fail to comply with any of its licensing conditions or PSL conditions, the Commissioner for Transport (Commissioner) may, under the Ordinance, suspend or permanently cancel the PSL or the PSL Certificate of the concerned vehicle or amend the terms of the PSL (such as amending the permitted uses). The above-mentioned power of the Commissioner is applicable to all vehicles issued with PSLs (including public light buses and school private buses) and not just to NFBs. In considering the penalty, the severity of penalty should suitably reflect the seriousness of a case. For example, the suspension period of a PSL should commensurate with the seriousness of the case. In general, for relatively minor irregularities (such as picking up or dropping off passengers at certain non-designated points), the penalty will generally be milder (such as suspension of the PSL Certificate of the concerned vehicle for several days). As for the more serious cases (such as providing services not permitted by the endorsement(s), viz. providing unlawful bus services), the penalty will be heavier (such as longer suspension period of the PSL Certificate of the concerned vehicle). For very serious irregularities (such as providing unlawful bus services repeatedly by the PSL holder), the PSL of the whole fleet of the operator may be suspended. The existing penalty system has been working well and producing deterrent effects in imposing varying penalty depending on the actual circumstances and severity of each case. TD will continue to communicate with the NFB trade to facilitate its normal and healthy development through lawful operation.

     There are two types of hotel service provided by NFBs. The first type is regular services with fixed routes, fixed destinations and timetables. The other type is services without fixed destinations and routes. For fixed services, operators are required to apply to TD in respect of the routes, boarding and alighting points, operating hours and days, as well as details of vehicles providing the service. The applicant shall also submit to TD the relevant documents, e.g. hotel licence or documents showing that the hotel is applying for a hotel licence from the Office of the Licensing Authority under the Home Affairs Department, valid contract signed with the hotel, etc. Under the existing arrangement, an application can be made to TD before the opening of the hotel. As long as the necessary documents are in order and the application is accepted, TD can approve the application before the opening of the hotel. If an operator would like to provide non-fixed services, he may do so by deploying NFBs issued with hotel service endorsement and does not need to apply to TD beforehand. In the past three years, TD did not receive complaints on the above requirements from the NFB trade. If the trade encounters difficulties concerning individual cases, it may bring the matter to TD's attention. TD would render assistance as far as possible.

     In the past five years (2011 - 2015), TD conducted three cases of inquiry concerning NFBs providing unlawful hotel service. Three NFBs operated by different operators were involved. The operators concerned were convicted in 2012, 2014 and 2015 respectively for providing unlawful hotel service by deploying NFBs without a hotel service endorsement. Among them, the PSL Certificates of two vehicles were suspended for 14 days and three months respectively. For the remaining case, the operator concerned subsequently cancelled the PSL of his own volition and ceased operation. According to information available, all operators concerned had not applied to TD for providing hotel service beforehand.

Note: NFB service endorsements include tour service, hotel service, student service, employees' service, international passenger service, residents' service and contract hire service endorsements.

Ends/Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:02


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