New World First Bus

U-turn by bus firms on discounts for elderly

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 December, 2008, 12:00am

Four bus companies have made a U-turn on their pricing - extending discounts to elderly passengers for a year one week after announcing the end of the benefit.

Lawmakers welcomed the concession, but lambasted the firms for refusing to continue a same-dayreturn benefit scheme during the economic downturn, which meant 228,000 passengers would pay 5 to 10 per cent more per day.

They passed a motion that condemned the bus operators' reduction of discounts.

The companies said the HK$2 flat rate on Sundays and public holidays for residents aged 65 or above would be extended until January 31, 2010 - despite their declarations last Wednesday that they could no longer afford the discounts.

The announcements were made yesterday hours before the Legislative Council debate.

New World First Bus and its subsidiary Citybus explained that the aim of the move was to 'express our respect for the elderly'. They said in a joint statement that it was 'already the best we can afford within our financial capabilities'.

'In recent years, Citybus and NWFB have combated with immense hardships, and deficits have been recorded for several months in 2008,' the two businesses said.

Kowloon Motor Bus and Long Win said in another joint statement that the decision was the result of a 'careful evaluation'. They said they had respectively lost more than HK$160 million and HK$3 million in the first half of the year.

All four bus firms cited rising fuel prices, wages and tunnel tolls as difficulties.

'This is only returning a little benefit after profiteering,' legislator Cheung Hok-ming said of the bus companies' decision.

'The de facto fare increase by cancelling [same-day-return] discounts means total indifference towards corporate social responsibility.'

Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng welcomed the extension of holiday bus-fare concessions for the elderly, but did not comment on the end of same-day-return benefits.

During the three-hour Legco debate, lawmakers also urged the MTR Corporation to resume a HK$2 holiday concession for senior residents that was removed on December 1. Ms Cheng said the government had encouraged the company to do so.

A spokesman for the MTR Corp said it would review the need for various discount schemes from time to time, based on the operating environment and market factors.