PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Bigger bus seats and quicker journeys to ease strain for Hong Kong commuters

Report on transport strategy also calls for more bus-only lanes and lower threshold for fare rebates

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 8:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 June, 2017, 12:03am

Long-haul bus services with guaranteed bigger seats and fewer stops could give commuters in the remote New Territories a much-needed alternative to packed trains and buses.

Other recommendations in a government study on the city’s public transport strategy included introducing more priority lanes to help buses beat traffic, and lowering the threshold for which bus operators have to give out fare rebates.

The two-and-a-half-year study into commuting habits revealed that 90 per cent – or 12.6 million – of daily trips in 2016 were made by public transport.

Though the government acknowledges that railways form the backbone of public transport, one-third of journeys were provided by franchised buses.

Demand for long-haul bus routes is particularly strong in rural areas far away from railway stations.

Opinions collected from passengers during the study indicated that such services should provide “greater comfort” – wider, guaranteed seats with no standing space – as well as Wi-fi connection and charging docks for electronic gadgets.

The routes should also have fewer stops to speed up the journey.

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Lawmaker Lau Kwok-fan, who is also a North District councillor, questioned if such services already existed.

“All these features I hear right now sound exactly like residents’ services – guaranteed seats and serving a dedicated group of passengers in faraway regions,” he noted.

A type of non-franchised bus, residents’ services usually take the form of coaches that serve remote residential developments in the morning peak hours. Last year they provided 230,000 passenger trips a day.

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“[That said] long-haul buses should not have standing passengers – it’s too dangerous on the highways,” Lau said.

He also suggested the government waive tunnel tolls for these routes to compensate bus operators running at lower capacity.

Another suggestion – to be implemented in the first half of 2018 – was to lower the threshold for which bus companies have to issue rebates. Currently, profits in excess of the 9.7 per cent annual rate of return must be split with passengers.

On the operations side, the study proposed setting aside more bus-only lanes and building more interchanges at tunnels and expressways to help passengers switch buses quickly.