New World order hits soggy streets
BRENDAN DELFINO and Stella Lee
A new era in public transport dawned this morning as the 65-year history of China Motor Bus (CMB) came to a wet close.
New World First Bus began its inaugural run at 12.15am with Transport Commissioner Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun on board.
'We've been working for months and everyone has waited for this moment to come - but the 65-year contribution by CMB to Hong Kong should not be overlooked,' Mrs Law said before the bus pulled away from Siu Sai Wan terminus.
The service was launched after a seven-hour operation in squally rain which saw the transfer of 2,300 staff, 710 buses, three depots, 126,000 litres of fuel and scores of mechanical equipment from CMB to First Bus.
Cheung Suet-sang who drove the inaugural run said: 'I'm very honoured and excited - the bus is full because so many people wanted to take the first ride.' CMB's final run, Route 10 to Kennedy Town, departed from North Point pier at 12.05am. Driver Ng Tim said; 'I'm just carrying out my everyday duty - everything changes.' Senior management and legal representatives from both companies signed and handed over documents for the Kennedy Town and Wong Chuk Hang depots.
Four teams of First Bus staff covered the CMB logos on buses and replaced bus stop signs. The Chai Wan depot was handed over at 2am.
Transport Secretary Nicholas Ng Wing-fui said the weather was unlikely to disrupt the first day of services.
He said everything was in order for a smooth transfer and thanked CMB for co-operating, saying services would start improving immediately.
First Bus launched all 52 of its own buses for early morning services. But of the 710 CMB buses it bought for $335 million, only 199 are air-conditioned.
More than 500 buses are needed to service all 88 routes and some 350 non air-conditioned buses will continue running today. But First Bus managing director Adolf Hsu Hsung admitted not all had been 100 per cent.
About one-third of the overnight bus frequencies had to be slashed after CMB said it could not continue providing services after midnight for insurance reasons.
CMB was stripped of the franchise in February after a decade of criticism over old buses, poor passenger service and industrial disputes.
Legislators hailed the change but transport panel deputy chairman Lau Kong-wah warned the public not to expect an overnight improvement in services.
A First Bus single-decker was involved in an accident 20 minutes after the new company began operations.
The bus, on route 23, had left the Siu Sai Wan depot when it was in collision with a lorry in Chong Fu Road, Heng Fa Chuen.
The bus, slightly damaged, was on its way to Pokfield Road bus terminus in Western. No passengers were on board.