Tram fare increase will not make anyone happy
Expectations were high when Hong Kong's century-old tram services were taken over by a French operator with a promise of more comfortable rides and better services. But two years later, those who wonder where those improvements are have been told they must wait longer.
This is because Veolia Transport, the company that bought Hong Kong Tramways from Wharf, says it is disappointed by the government's decision to only allow the adult fare to increase by 30 cents to HK$2.3, 20 cents short of its target. As a result, the improvement plans, which the company says are long overdue, will have to be 'slower than originally planned'.
No one likes fare rises. But many passengers will not mind paying a few more cents for better services. That is why the 50 cents increase sought was justified as long as the tram operator honoured its promise to make the necessary improvements. Now, a fare increase will be put in place, but renovations will be delayed. It is not a good deal for passengers.
The company would have known from the beginning that it was making a long-term investment. It hopes to reverse a decline in passenger numbers with a HK$200 million facelift, such as air-conditioned cabins, on-board broadcasts and better track systems. Naturally any increase may temporarily drive away some passengers. If the proposed renovations do not materialise, passengers are expected to turn to other, more comfortable, forms of transport. The company may find itself in a vicious circle when it says it will re-examine priorities in order to stem declining passenger numbers.
Many passengers already find themselves paying more for journeys across the city. Almost all transport operators, including ferry, bus, MTR and taxi, have been given the green light recently to charge more. Although this is the first tram fare adjustment in 13 years, the government will have taken into consideration that trams are primarily used by those on low incomes. Officials should closely monitor the situation to ensure the improvement projects will not be compromised.