MTR fares to rise - and ferries will follow

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 March, 2011, 12:00am

The MTR Corp yesterday announced a fare increase of 2.3 per cent, a rise of 10 HK cents to 20 HK cents per ride.

And many other forms of public transport are preparing to raise fares, too. Seven ferry routes - six outlying ferry lines and a domestic route between Hung Hom and North Point - are also expected to announce fare rises today, of HK$1.10 to HK$4.

The increment for the six outlying island ferry services would have been over 20 per cent, but passengers will only pay half of the increase because the government will subsidise the rest, using a HK$120 million fund set up last year to keep the ferries within reasonable cost, people familiar with the situation said.

The subsidies are for routes between Central and Cheung Chau, Mui Wo, Lamma Island and Peng Chau. But passengers of ferry services between Hung Hom and North Point will shoulder all the increase - around HK$1, or about 25 per cent.

The Transport and Housing Bureau earlier explained it would subsidise outlying island ferry routes, but not others, as they were the only means of transport for islanders.

Ferry operators said an increase was necessary because fuel costs and wages jumped by up to 50 per cent in a year.

The Hung Hom-North Point route operated by New World First Ferry will become the only remaining cross-border ferry service for Hung Hom residents. The decades-old Hung Hom-Wan Chai route operated by Star Ferry is scheduled to cease operation by the end of this month because of persistent deficits.

One regular passenger of both routes said she accepted the rise, which will be imposed on April 1, if that's what it took to keep the remaining route. 'After all, the ferry is still a much cheaper and more direct choice than buses even after the rise.'

But rail commuters, their memories of the last fare rise still fresh, were less understanding.

Last June, the MTR Corp was allowed an average increase of 2.05 per cent, its first rise in 13 years. The outcome was derived from a fare adjustment formula incorporated in 2007 upon the line's merger with the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation's rail operations.

The formula took into account the composite consumer price index and wage levels of transport workers, which are renewed every quarter. It is prone to generate a positive outcome during times of inflation.

Jeny Yeung Mei-chun, general manager of marketing, said the corporation gave up fare autonomy for this 'open and objective' mechanism. Therefore, both the MTR Corp and the government would respect the outcome, although she did not say if they will offer passengers any new concessions.

Last year's increase boosted fare revenue by 8.36 per cent, to HK$12.46 billion. Yeung noted that the corporation also spent more than HK$1.6 billion on various discounts and promotions.

The MTR Corp's underlying profit - profit excluding annual revaluation of properties - jumped 18.5 per cent year-on-year to HK$8.66 billion last year.

The company will announce details of increases before the new fares are effective in June.

Taxis, Kowloon Motor Bus and Hong Kong Tramway are all in the queue for a rise. Their applications still need approval from the Executive Council but it is understood all want to raise fares - by HK$2 on the flag fall for taxis, about 3 per cent for buses, and at least a 30 HK cents increase per ride for trams.

A total of 28 minibus routes have been allowed to raise fares between 10 HK cents and 70 HK cents so far this year, with 116 more routes still waiting to up their fares. Meanwhile, the Eastern Harbour Crossing wants to raise its toll by 40 per cent.

Higher costs

Seven ferry routes are expected to announce fare increases today

Fares for the six outlying ferry lines and a domestic route are set to rise, in HK dollars, by up to: $4

Operators say the increase is necessary because fuel costs and wages over the past year have jumped by: 50%