Think tank mulls second travel subsidy scheme

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2011, 12:00am

An influential think tank has proposed a travel subsidy for long-distance commuters who may not qualify for the HK$600 government subsidy to be launched next month for low-income travellers.

The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre proposed the subsidy - that would not use a means test - yesterday, after a June survey found that long-distance commuting costs were too high for 73 per cent of 1,007 respondents. Those respondents said they paid an average of HK$740 per month on commuting fees, while HK$620 was all they could comfortably afford.

The cost of commuting by MTR or bus can be as high as HK$1,000 per month for some residents of Tuen Mun, Sheung Shui and Tung Chung who must get to Central.

The think tank, which is considered to be aligned with Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, proposed a transport subsidy of HK$300 per month. To qualify, commuters must spend at least HK$700 per month on public transport - paying at least HK$14 for a one-way trip. The subsidy would be delivered via the Octopus card.

A spokesman for Octopus said the company would be 'pleased to explore new card features for transport', and that it would work out details with the government if the proposal were adopted.

Not eligible in calculating the HK$700 benchmark would be spending on taxis, red minibuses, cross-boundary services, airport railway services or first class rail.

The Bauhinia centre estimates the subsidy would cost the government HK$1.1 billion to HK$1.3 billion. It bases that figure on the assumption that 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the residents of various districts - including Tuen Mun, Yuen Long, North District, Tai Po and outlying islands - travel daily to Central or Tsim Sha Tsui for work.

Gregory Leung Wing-lup, special adviser at the Bauhinia centre, said the proposal was targeted at commuters who might not qualify for the upcoming HK$600 government subsidy aimed at low-income individuals and households, yet who must use a large portion of their salary for transport. 'They can probably afford it, but they are certainly not happy doing so,' he said.

The means-tested government programme, due to start in October, is the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme. It will offer HK$600 for six months to individuals with a monthly income below HK$6,500, or household income of three people below HK$13,000. It will begin accepting applications on October 3.

Asked about a possible overlap of the two plans, Leung said: 'The chance of abuse is low because the only way to access the money is by travelling long distances.'

DAB legislator Chan Choi-hi said he supported the proposal because he had heard many people complain about their high commuting costs.

But Wong Sing-chi, a councillor in Northern district, said he thought it was unnecessary. 'If this subsidy from taxpayers' money is to help people like me. I would qualify for it, but I don't need it,' he said. 'If the purpose is to include more people in the travel subsidy, then they could simply raise the income ceiling for those who qualify.'


The total cost to the government, in Hong Kong dollars, for the Work Incentive Transport Subsidy Scheme, which covers 18 districts


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