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Chief executive’s policy address 2017

Hong Kong’s new commuter subsidy not open to abuse, says transport chief

Frank Chan insists HK$400 baseline will ensure long-distance commuters benefit most, and adds only a few thousand travellers expected to recoup full discount

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 3:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 3:57pm

A travel subsidy intended to relieve commuters’ financial burden was unlikely to be “abused”, and only a few thousand travellers are expected to recoup the full HK$300 discount, the transport minister said on Friday.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan spoke after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced the new subsidy in her policy address on Wednesday.

Under the deal, once a person has spent HK$400 in a month on public transport on their Octopus card, the government will cover 25 per cent of any further fares.

Commuters will have to scan their card at MTR stations at the end of each month for the discount to kick in.

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The subsidy will be capped at HK$300 in savings per month, so a commuter would have to spend HK$1,600 monthly on travel to receive the maximum available subsidy.

Critics of the plan, which is purportedly intended to ease the burden on poorer long-distance commuters, have said it is open to abuse and will mainly benefit parallel traders, who take the MTR to cross the border daily, selling goods that they carry from Hong Kong to the mainland.

But Chan dismissed the concerns.

“The advantage of this scheme is we subsidise you more if you are spending more,” he said.

“But we were also worried the scheme might be abused, so we set a baseline. Users will only be subsidised if their expenses are above that line.”

He said he believed the scheme could help people with genuine transport needs, as travellers have to spend HK$3 to receive another HK$1 from the government, after passing the HK$400 mark.

“I think one would not spend that HK$3 without any transport needs,” he said on a radio programme on Friday.

He said only “a few thousand” of the 10 million Octopus cards currently used in the city log monthly travel spends of more than HK$2,000.

And in response to complaints that shuttle buses to and from housing estates are not included in the scheme, Chan said that was because the government does not regulate their fares. But he said they could yet be included.

“We have noticed many people told us that their estates could only be connected by estate shuttles, which serve as public transport to residents ... we would consider again [whether to include them in the scheme],” Chan said.