We cannot force fare cuts, says minister as motion is shunned

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 12:00am

Legislators yesterday lost their battle to press for public transport fare cuts after a motion on the subject was thrown out because it lacked support.

The rejection came almost a year after legislators passed a motion encouraging public transport operators to cut fares.

Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung said the government was constrained when it came to encouraging companies to cut fares. 'If we push with too much force, it would affect the balance and might affect the business of individual operators,' she said.

Dr Liao said that on the one hand, the government was reviewing the fare mechanism, while on the other it was working with the operators to provide more concessionary fares and a more reasonable fare structure.

A distance-based bus fare scheme, weekend concessionary fares and more concessions for rail-bus or bus-bus transits were all being explored.

The Democrats' Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, who moved the motion, said the public was feeling the pinch in the economic downturn while some bus operators were making huge profits.

Mr Cheng called on the government to adopt the British model on setting fares, which took into account the consumer price index, changes in operators' efficiency and investment.

Lau Kong-wah, of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, urged the government to review the 'exceptionally high' fares on cross-harbour and circular routes and for air-conditioned buses. 'The fare scales of these routes were all set in 1997, which we find is totally inapplicable to the present economic situation,' he said.

But Miriam Lau Kin-yee, of the Liberal Party, who represents the transport sector, said there were other ways to cut fares than through an across-the-board cut. Another Liberal, Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, said operators' autonomy to set fares should not be compromised. Independent Eric Li Ka-cheung warned of pay cuts and lay-offs by public transport operators if they were forced to reduce fares.