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LCQ15: Supporting the public transport sector
     ​Following is a question by the Hon Luk Chung-hung and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Transport and Logistics, Mr Liu Chun-san, in the Legislative Council today (December 14):


     ​Quite a number of members of the public transport sector have relayed that, hard hit by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 epidemic, there has been a drop in patronage of various public transport modes, resulting in a decrease in their income. Although the Government has provided them with one-off subsidies and fuel subsidies, they are still facing great difficulties in their businesses. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether the Transport Department (TD) has gained an understanding from the operators of public light buses (PLBs) of the current business situations of various routes of green minibuses (GMBs) and red minibuses (RMBs) (including the ratio of routes making a profit to those suffering a loss, whether the operators have sufficient liquidity to cope with business difficulties, and whether they have any plans to close down their businesses or give up operating certain routes); if the TD has, of the details; whether the Government will study maintaining the services of some minibus routes with business difficulties but with actual passenger demand, through a mode of purchasing services from the operators; 

(2) whether it has compiled statistics on the average amounts of fuel expenditures incurred by franchised buses, taxis, RMBs, GMBs, ferries and kaitos, and the rates of changes of such expenditures, as well as the proportions of such expenditures in their total operating costs, since January this year; 

(3) as the provision of fuel subsidies by the Government for PLBs and taxis will end on the 31st of this month, whether the Government will consider regularising such subsidies; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and 

(4) as some members of the trade have relayed that the average monthly salary for GMB drivers is about $15,000, which is lower than the average monthly salary of about $22,430 for practitioners in the transport industry last year, leading to difficulties in attracting new blood to the trade and manpower shortage for GMB drivers, what specific proposals the Government has for ameliorating such situation?

     In consultation with the Transport Department (TD), my reply to the question raised by the Hon Luk Chung-hung is as follows:

(1) In the light of the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on the public light bus (PLB) trade, the TD has maintained close communication with the trade, including regular meetings and routine liaison, so as to keep abreast of their latest operation situation and explore practical measures that help the trade cope with the financial pressure amidst the difficult operating environment. The Government launched the sixth round of the Anti-epidemic Fund (AEF) in February 2022 and extended the relevant relief measures in June 2022, which include provision of a one-off non-accountable subsidy of $30,000 per eligible PLB to passenger service license holders of green minibuses (GMBs) and vehicle owners of red minibuses (RMBs); as well as provision of fuel subsidies to PLBs for an eight-month period (i.e. from May to December 2022). As at November 30, 2022, the TD has disbursed a total of about $134 million of subsidies to the PLB trade, and some of the measures are still ongoing. The 2022 Employment Support Scheme under the sixth round of the AEF also provides wage subsidies to employers, including GMB operators, for three months (i.e. from May to July 2022) to help them retain their current employees or even employ more staff members upon recovery of the businesses having regard to the epidemic situation. Apart from the above, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and the banking industry launched the Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme in May 2020 to offer credit relief to eligible corporate customers (including the PLB trade). The scheme has been further extended to end-July 2023.

     ​Meanwhile, the GMB operators can apply to the TD for fare adjustments having regard to the business situation of their route packages. The TD will consider their applications taking into account such factors as the operating and financial conditions of individual routes at the time. The TD also actively helps the GMB trade improve their operating and financial conditions by way of adjusting the frequency and operating hours, route rationalisation and vehicles deployment, etc. The TD revised the internal guidelines in early 2022 to enhance the efficiency in handling fare adjustment applications, with a view to facilitating timely fare adjustments by the operators to improve the financial position of their route packages. From January to November 2022, the TD has granted approval for the fare adjustment applications of 75 route packages, involving a total of about 250 GMB routes. Upon implementation of the new fares, along with recovery of patronage as the epidemic subsides, it is expected that the route packages concerned will be in a healthier financial position, and in this way maintain operation and continue to provide service. In 2022, the TD has received notification from one operator proposing service termination of one GMB route (Note 1).

(2) The quarterly figures for the first three quarters of 2022 on the fuel expenditures incurred by franchised bus, taxi and ferry operators, and the proportions of such expenditures to their operating costs, are as follows (Note 2):
  First quarter
of 2022
Second quarter
of 2022
Third quarter
of 2022
  Fuel expenditure
 to operating costs
FE Proportion
to operating costs
Rate of change of FE against
 that of
FE Proportion
 to operating costs
Rate of change of FE against that of second quarter
All Franchised Bus Operators
$205 million

8 per cent

11 per cent
by about 27 per cent
$336 million About 13 per cent Increased by about 29 per cent
All Ferry Operators

About 23 per cent $82

32 per cent
by about 55 per cent
$80 million About 31 per cent Decreased
by about 2.4 per cent
Taxis On average
$344 per vehicle
per day
About 43 per cent On average
$310 per vehicle
per day
38 per cent
by about 10 per cent
On average
$211 per vehicle per day
About 24 per cent Decreased by about 32 per cent

     ​The TD does not have the corresponding information concerning individual operators of GMBs, RMBs and kaitos.

(3) Fuel subsidy is a temporary measure for alleviating the operating difficulties facing the trade amidst the prolonged epidemic and the drop in patronage. As the Government relaxes the compulsory quarantine requirement on arrival and the social distancing measures, the patronage of most public transport modes has been recovering and we believe that the businesses of the operators will improve gradually. We have no plan to extend or regularise the fuel subsidy at this stage, but will nevertheless continue to maintain close liaison with the public transport operators on their operating situation.

(4) Regarding the manpower shortage in the PLB trade, the Government has been keeping in view the situation, and communicating with the stakeholders to actively consider various measures that help the trade cope with the operating pressure arising therefrom. We know that GMB operators have been attracting new blood through different means, including improving salaries and benefits, and hiring part-time drivers to meet service demand during peak hours. If GMB operators apply for fare adjustment on account of rising costs (including the salaries for drivers), their applications will be considered by the TD according to the abovementioned mechanism. Besides, the TD offers support to the trade in various aspects on driver recruitment. Such efforts include maintaining liaison with the Labour Department (LD) to arrange briefing sessions and coordinate the participation of the PLB trade in job fairs organised by the LD, and providing the trade with more information on employment programmes. For instance, operators have been encouraged to engage job seekers aged 40 or above holding PLB driving licenses through the Employment Programme for the Elderly and Middle-aged of the LD.

Note 1: The route involved is New Territories overnight GMB route no. 58S (Sheung Shui Station - Mongkok Station).
Note 2: Under the sixth round of the AEF, the Government reimburses 40 per cent of the actual fuel/electricity cost incurred by the five franchised bus companies, and 11 franchised and licensed ferry operators between February and September 2022; offers a $2.0 discount per litre of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to LPG taxis, and reimburses 40 per cent of the actual fuel cost incurred by petrol taxis from May to December 2022.
Ends/Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Issued at HKT 12:30
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