Proposal to increase minibus seats rejected

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2007, 12:00am

The government refused yesterday to consider allowing green-top minibuses to install more seats in an effort to cut peak-hour congestion, despite claims that the idea had wide support in the community.

The Transport Department said it had no plans for a strategic review of public light bus services as it did not foresee growth in demand because of robust railway development.

But Leung Kong-yui, associate head of the Centre for Logistics and Transport at Hong Kong University SPACE, who made the proposal, said the department was not responsive to calls from the community.

The buses now have 16 seats but have space for 24. If a change were made, it would be the first since the number was increased 20 years ago from 14 to 16.

Mr Leung said the operating environment had changed a lot since the government's most recent review of minibus services 10 years ago.

'There is always a mismatch in the distribution of vehicles and passengers,' he said. 'Some routes have too many buses and no passengers, while others have too many passengers but few buses.'

A spokesman for the department said existing services were sufficient because a survey by the department early this year found that passengers, even on the more popular routes, only waited two minutes on average to catch a bus during peak hours.

But Mr Leung said a survey by his centre showed passengers on popular routes, including between Causeway Bay and Cyberport or Stanley, had to queue for up to 26 minutes during peak hours.

'I don't have to argue with [the department], everyone knows whether two minutes is a normal waiting time for minibus passengers in peak hours,' he said.

GMB Maxicab association chairman Hiew Moo-siew, who represents operators of green-top minibuses, said it would be helpful if the government allowed them to increase the number of seats to 24, although it was estimated to cost HK$50,000 to HK$70,000 per bus.

'We are willing to invest the amount because renting red minibuses to meet the demand of our passengers is more costly for us in the long run,' he said.

Mr Leung said not all the 2,813 green-top minibuses needed to be modified, just the few dozen that served the busy routes.

He said the proposal was particularly important as existing policy prevented operators from using certain routes, which further limited their flexibility.

Wan Chai District councillor Steve Chan Yiu-fai backed the idea of boosting seat numbers, saying it was a feasible solution for the long queues during evening peak hours.

But the department fears raising the number of seats in green-top minibuses would lengthen passengers' waiting times as drivers might then spend a longer time waiting to pick up passengers.

A spokesman said the trade had maintained a steady market share over the past decade and it would continue to monitor it for any change.

Hanging around

A survey suggests the wait on popular minibus routes can be up to 26 minutes

The number of minibus journeys per day in 2006 1.8m