Fare concessions for elderly need extending

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 January, 2009, 12:00am

Public transport is vital to the elderly and disadvantaged. It is a lifeline to friends and family and helps people stay active and independent. Fares for such groups should be as low as possible. Society as a whole, not just the companies involved, should pay to make this possible. A policy should be put in place to provide across-the-board fare concessions for the elderly.

Transport firms have shareholders to answer to. They offer concessionary fares to elderly not out of necessity but as a goodwill gesture. This has been lost in discussion of the MTR Corp switching its designated day for cheaper travel from Sunday to Wednesday. Some lawmakers questioned the decision yesterday, just as they did last month when bus companies decided not to continue same-day return benefits.

Sundays and public holidays have been the favoured times for offering the HK$2 flat fare because of the perception that this is when the elderly want to meet relatives. The MTR Corp argues that it is giving choice with its switch, since bus companies already have Sundays covered. Critics say its decision is aimed simply at trying to save money on the concession.

Hong Kong firms expect to face increasingly tough times as the economic downturn bites ever deeper. The MTR Corp has suggested that fares may have to rise in July. That those in the transport sector have extended concessions to people aged over 65 for another year is, in the circumstances, good. But there is a need to put fare concessions on a firmer footing - and to consider extending such a scheme to others in need.

The community, not just the operators, should provide the means for this to happen. Rather than criticising the companies for offering concessions they are not obliged to offer, lawmakers should be discussing such a proposal. The government should not fund the venture; perhaps it could be written into licence agreements, with greater flexibility given for higher general fares. The elderly, disabled and poor deserve every opportunity to have their lives enriched.