LCQ12: Services of public light buses

     Following is a question by the Hon Luk Chung-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Frank Chan Fan, in the Legislative Council today (January 24):

     Regarding the public light buses (PLBs), will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the respective numbers of complaints received in each of the past three years by the authorities about the services of red minibuses (RMBs) and green minibuses (GMBs), with a breakdown by type of complaint;

(2) of the authorities' measures in the past three years to encourage the operators of RMBs to apply for the operation of green minibus routes, and the number of RMBs converted to GMBs each year;

(3) given that the statutory ceiling for passenger seating capacity of PLBs has been raised from 16 to 19 seats since July 7 of last year, whether the authorities have (i) compiled statistics on the existing number of RMBs and GMBs converted to provide 19 seats which (a) are in service after passing the vehicle examination and (b) have not yet passed the vehicle examination; and (ii) looked into how the current respective business conditions of RMBs and GMBs compare with those before July 7 of last year; and

(4) whether it will consider cancelling the restriction zones on certain roads where drivers of PLBs are prohibited from picking up or setting down passengers, or relaxing the prohibition hours of such zones, with a view to improving the operating environment for PLBs; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     In the public transport system of Hong Kong, public light buses (PLBs) have all along been playing the role of providing supplementary feeder service to serve areas with relatively lower passenger demand or where the use of high-capacity transport modes is not suitable. There are two types of PLBs, namely green minibuses (GMBs) and red minibuses (RMBs). GMBs operate scheduled services with their routes, fares, vehicle allocation and timetable subject to approval by the Transport Department (TD). RMBs are not required to operate on fixed routes or timetable and can set their own fares. To facilitate the operation of the trade, the Government introduces measures from time to time and adjusts the networks and services of PLBs.
     My reply to the various parts of the Hon Luk Chung-hung's question is as follows:

(1) The number of complaints received from 2015 to 2017 by the TD through the Transport Complaints Unit and the 1823 Centre regarding RMB and GMB services is set out at the Annex.

(2) It has been the Government's established policy to encourage the conversion of RMBs to GMBs for the sake of ensuring service quality level and achieving effective monitoring. As such, the TD has been introducing new route packages suitable for GMB operation, having regard to the demand for public transport services, geographical locations and operational viability of routes, etc., and inviting operators (including RMB operators) to apply for running these routes through open invitation. The applications will be assessed by the Green Minibus Operators Selection Board in accordance with a set of selection criteria and prescribed marking scheme.

     To encourage RMBs to convert to GMBs, applicants who are new entrants to the GMB trade (including the existing operators operating RMB services only) will be given full marks under the assessment item of "whether the applicant is a new entrant to the GMB trade" since 2002. The percentage of this item, which originally accounted for 10% of the total score, was raised to 15% starting from 2004. Records showed that the TD introduced a total of nine new GMB routes in the past three years, and the operating rights of eight of these routes were obtained by RMB operators.
     Meanwhile, the Government has been encouraging the existing GMB operators to purchase RMB vehicles on the market so as to enlarge their fleet size for improvement of services.

     With the above measures in place, the number of GMB vehicles has progressively increased in the past three years from 3 204 (about 74%) at end-2015 to 3 281 (about 75%) at end-2017. The breakdown is as follows:
  Number of RMBs Number of GMBs
2015 1 146 3 204
2016 1 096 3 254
2017 1 069 3 281

(3) Currently, the TD's work progress on examining 19-seat PLBs has been satisfactory. As at end-2017, a total of 249 19-seat PLBs (accounted for 6% of the registered PLBs in Hong Kong), including 212 GMBs and 37 RMBs, have passed the vehicle examination and have since been registered. Among these, 163 are newly registered 19-seat PLBs while the remaining 86 (including 85 GMBs and 1 RMB) are converted from serving long wheelbase PLBs. On January 16, 2018, only one 19-seat PLB was awaiting examination.

     The above-mentioned examined and registered 19-seat PLBs have been deployed to various routes for operation since August 2017. The Government will launch a regular survey on the market occupancy rate of light buses in 2018-19, in which the supply of, the demand for, and the operation of PLB services subsequent to the implementation of the new maximum seating capacity will also be reviewed.

(4) Taking into account the road congestion problem in Hong Kong and unregulated routes and frequencies of RMB services, the Government has to introduce some restrictive measures (e.g. clearways and no entry to certain road sections/areas) to maintain effective district traffic management.

     Nevertheless, having regard to the request of the RMB trade and taking into account the actual situation of individual locations, the TD has relaxed or rescinded some passenger pick-up/drop-off restricted zones and prohibited zones where possible. Apart from allowing RMBs access to West Kowloon Corridor and certain sections of Island Eastern Corridor, the TD has further relaxed restrictions on certain sections of Kwun Tong Bypass and East Kowloon Corridor in recent years. Further, the TD, through good communication and collaboration with the trade,  implemented a pilot scheme in June 2017 to relax the PLB prohibited zone at Sugar Street in Causeway Bay. The arrangement has enabled smoother and more convenient RMB operation in the district.

     The TD will continue to study and discuss with the trade the feasibility of relaxing or rescinding other passenger pick-up/drop-off restricted zones and prohibited zones.

Ends/Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Issued at HKT 15:30