LWB's response to Ombudsman's direct investigation report

     Regarding a report released by the Ombudsman today (March 9) on its direct investigation into "Government Regulation of Special Transport Services to Persons with Mobility Difficulties", the Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB) responded as follows:

     The LWB attaches great importance to implementing the Hong Kong Rehabilitation Programme Plan in order to promote the development of barrier-free transport, particularly in the provision of the Rehabus service for persons with disabilities who have difficulties in using public transport services, and a centre bus service for users of rehabilitation service centres.

     During the past 10 years, the LWB has been allocating funding to the operator of Rehabus (the Hong Kong Society for Rehabilitation) (HKSR) for procuring 61 additional Rehabuses, thereby increasing the fleet size to 156 vehicles (an increase of 64 per cent). The number of passenger trips served by Rehabuses increased from 600 000 in 2006 to almost 900 000 in 2016. The Government will allocate funding to the HKSR in 2017-18 for procuring eight additional new Rehabuses, thereby further increasing the fleet size to 164 vehicles. Meanwhile, the number of centre buses for rehabilitation service centres has continuously increased to 199 at present. Funding has been obtained for procuring 73 additional centre buses.

     The LWB and the Transport Department (TD) have been monitoring closely the change in demand for the Rehabus service and additional resources have been allocated to the HKSR through the annual Resource Allocation Exercise according to the actual service needs for enhancing the service and providing additional Rehabus services. Moreover, the Government has all along been reviewing Rehabus services on various fronts and adopting different measures to raise the service standard of Rehabus.

     The Government notices that the supply still falls short of demand for the dial-a-ride service, particularly the transport needs in attending medical appointments and taking part in social activities. In this connection, the Government has allocated additional resources for the HKSR to introduce more hospital feeder service routes and dedicated travel routes during non-peak hours or holidays. 

     To further enhance the operation efficiency of the Rehabus service, the HKSR is conducting a consultancy study under the steer of the LWB and the TD. Phase I of the study has been completed. Through regular working meetings, the Government is assisting the HKSR in implementing the recommendations. Some of the consultant's recommendations coincide with the direction of the improvement measures recommended by the Ombudsman, including the Ombudsman's observation that users should not take the Rehabus as their personalised means of transport and the HKSR should put into practice the shared use of Rehabuses among users. 

     In addition, some non-government organisations (NGOs) subvented by Social Welfare Department (SWD) provide centre bus services to cater for the transport needs of the rehabilitation centre users. Given that the centre bus service is ancillary facilities and deployed by rehabilitation centres, the SWD did not request the NGOs to provide the number of users or passenger trips of the service. The LWB has already asked the SWD to collect data from NGOs, service users and self-help groups to ensure the best utilisation of the centre buses. The LWB will also continue its discussion with Education Bureau to examine the feasibility of deploying educational resources for assisting schools in arranging special transport services for students with special transport needs.

     The LWB will seriously examine the improvement measures for persons with disabilities including the recommendation raised by the Ombudsman to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the demand of special transport services.

     The Government has announced that it will commence formulating a new Hong Kong Rehabilitation Programme Plan, after the Elderly Commission completes the formulation of the Elderly Services Programme Plan in the second quarter of 2017, by making reference to the relevant experience. We believe that the long-term development strategy of special transport services will also be examined in that context.

Ends/Thursday, March 9, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:38