Thanks for nothing, retiring bus boss tells his friends in power

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 April, 2008, 12:00am

A 30-year government career may have given John Chan Cho-chak many friendships.

But he said it won him few breaks when he ran the Kowloon Motor Bus Company, which he said was deteriorating in the face of the government's bias towards railways.

Once tipped as a candidate to become the first post-handover chief executive, the outgoing KMB chief said his friendship with top officials did not make his job any easier.

He ran KMB for 15 years after he left the administration and will step down as managing director of its listed holding company, Transport International Holdings, on his 65th birthday on Tuesday.

'The closer you are to officials, the less favours you get ... [the government] doesn't want to be seen as favouring their men,' Mr Chan said.

One example was the administration making railways a priority, which has been blamed for a decline in the minibus and bus sectors.

'We are told to change our role as a mode of transport, but the government maintains their old bus industry regulating system, which is even more stringent than those which apply to a bank,' Mr Chan said.

'Everything from bus routes to bus frequency is monitored. Purchases of new buses, no matter how many of them, also require the government's approval.'

Adding to Mr Chan's frustration was what he said was the government's perception of buses and minibuses as auxiliary transportation to the MTR. Still, he denied this would put KMB out of business.

'We can handle businesses big or small,' Mr Chan said. 'If we are to become [the railway's] feeder, we don't have to keep a fleet of 4,000 buses and we can also remove a lot of routes and services, if only the community would agree to that.

'With a fleet half our present size, we might even make bigger profits due to lower costs.'

Mr Chan said he regretted he would not hear the result of KMB's application for a 9 per cent fare rise before he quit.

KMB made hundreds of millions of dollars profit every year under his management despite escalating oil prices and wages and other factors he so often cited as justification for fare-rise requests that the public called 'crazy'.

'We do not seek a huge profit but it should at least be close to the rate of return allowed, which is 9.7 per cent,' he said. The company made a profit of 6 per cent last year.

Mr Chan will remain Hong Kong Jockey Club chairman and retain several other public roles.

He said the highlight of his government career was his participation in the Sino-British talks on Hong Kong's future. But he will not return to government.

'I absolutely will not return to the government,' he said. 'I never liked politics.'