Bus companies should give discounts to the city's disabled

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 April, 2010, 12:00am

It is a good measure of the inclusiveness and caring of any city to review to what extent adequate provision is made for that society's least-advantaged citizens. Here, in Hong Kong, there is much room for improvement.

We write to press for more fare discounts to be made available on public transport to Hong Kong's disabled citizens: specifically, to extend such discounts to bus travel.

Few could deny that the physical structure of our MTR subway and other modes of public transport have been very well designed, with the special needs of the disabled in mind. That is all to the credit of Hong Kong's public transport operators.

However, such physical ways to reduce potential barriers to travel are not yet fully matched with support to overcome economic barriers to travel, which are faced by very many of our disabled fellow-citizens.

Some may ask, why should only disabled people be given fare concessions, when there are plenty of other poor citizens who would appreciate similar support? The sad fact is, though, that to be disabled in this city means - for most of them - that they cannot secure a decent job, or can only get jobs below their real skills level, because of widespread indifference to their special needs at work.

As a result, a shockingly high proportion of our disabled fellow citizens cannot secure a good job. To rely on the Disability Allowance and the support of family members, as many do, leaves them with very little money for social gatherings or to pay the fares to get to them.

The MTR Corporation, after rallies and a campaign to encourage it to do so, generously offered half-fare discounts to the disabled, from one year ago. That welcome move to support the disabled community was aided, financially, by sponsorship from the Transport and Housing Bureau.

Hong Kong's bus companies are herby urged to make half-fare discounts available to registered disabled citizens.

And that long-overdue move should be supported by the Transport and Housing Bureau. Because our bus companies are set up as profit-making organisations, the government should step in to make up the difference in these fares. That way, the disabled are supported without these bus operators losing money by it.

Our government can certainly afford to take this step. What are the huge financial reserves for - if not to help those Hong Kong citizens most in need? Let us show to those of our fellow citizens unlucky enough to be disabled how much our society as a whole values them, and to mark that by giving them the chance to travel by bus at reduced rates.

Tomorrow, from 11.30am, many groups of disabled people will rally in Causeway Bay (noon at East Point Road), to press the bus franchise firms to offer them fare discounts. We hope that their efforts will not be in vain.

Paul Surtees and Fernando Cheung, advisers, Hong Kong Federation of the Blind