One-off grant 'favoured as bait for LPG minibus switch'
Quinton Chan and Felix Chan
Minibuses running on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) could be on the streets by next summer if operators agree to a one-off grant to switch to the new vehicles, sources say.
It is understood the Government concluded after a six-month trial ending in January that LPG minibuses should be brought in.
It was also satisfied with electric minibuses, which were also tested, even though they faced technical problems, a source said.
The Government is understood to prefer offering a one-off cash grant, the amount yet to be decided, to operators to encourage them to switch to LPG minibuses.
Diesel vans cannot be converted to LPG and operators must buy new ones. LPG and diesel minibuses cost about $300,000.
The same grant could apply to electric minibuses if the Government approves them. Officials last year offered a $40,000 subsidy to each taxi converting to LPG.
But another source said the Government did not agree to minibus operators' demands to increase the number of seats in their vehicles from the current limit of 16 passengers.
He said manufacturers in Japan told the Government new LPG buses could be in production within 12 months.
'We could get it launched as soon as the minibuses are ready,' the source said. 'There are many incentives for them to change.'
The trial scheme found LPG buses cost only 78 cents a kilometre to run, electric buses about $1 and existing diesel-operated vehicles about $1.20.
LPG fuel costs could be even lower when more than 20 new LPG gas stations come into operation this year. Diesel vehicles are set to face higher charges, as a tax concession of 89 cents per litre will end in June.
The Food and Environment Bureau is expected to make a final decision this summer and to strike a deal with operators.
Officials are privately hoping that all 4,300 minibuses will run on LPG by 2005.
Minibus operators were not happy with the news. Ng Mou- shing, chairman of the Public Light Bus General Association, said he and other operators insisted it would be better to have extra seats than a one-off grant.
If the grant option were chosen, it would have to be between $80,000 and $100,000 per vehicle, Mr Ng said.