US attacks strain MTRC ridership
The terrorist attacks in the United States have hit passenger numbers on MTR trains, with the Airport Express trains suffering the most.
MTR Corp yesterday unveiled figures showing that last month's patronage on the Airport Express trains tumbled almost 17 per cent year on year to 684,000.
The corporation also said the patronage of its four urban subway lines declined 0.87 per cent to 63.1 million over the same period, because of the closure of schools as a result of red rain storms.
The poor numbers pose more questions for the corporation, which has been losing passengers to buses and mini-buses.
For the first nine months of the year, the Airport Express carried 6.96 million passengers, down 11.18 per cent.
Combined passenger numbers of the Tung Chung, Tsuen Wan, Island and Kwun Tong lines declined 1.5 per cent to 563.16 million during the period.
Cancellations of North American flights between September 12 and September 14 after the terrorist attacks were a main reason behind the disappointing ridership on the Airport Express, MTRC said.
In-town check-in services at the Hong Kong and Kowloon train stations have also been closed since September 12 for security reasons.
A Singapore-based utility analyst said: 'There is a continuous weakness in the patronage which is expected to remain pretty flat until new extension routes come into service.
'Compare the services between MTRC and its Singapore counterpart MRT, the MRT is relatively young and has developing properties along railway lines, pushing up ridership.
'However, the MTR lines are relatively mature and areas along its lines are very much developed.'
The analyst added that cut-throat competition saw MTRC lose its share of the public transport market to bus operators such as Kowloon Motor Bus, New World First Bus and CityBus.
In a recent research report on MTRC, Merrill Lynch estimated the corporation's patronage (excluding the Airport Express) to shrink 1.2 per cent this year.
Despite this, the brokerage believed the North Point interchange which came into service a fortnight ago, would help revive the ridership.
Meanwhile, MTRC officials recently told analysts that the Government was likely to stall awarding the rights to build and operate the HK$25 billion Sha Tin to Central railway corridor until next year.
MTRC and Kowloon-Canton Railway Corp are the bidders.
It had been widely expected that the Government would make a decision this month before disposing of the second batch of MTRC shares at the end of the year.
Given the prevailing volatile stock market and economy, the Government is expected to make a decision on the project and the share sale next year.