A HK$670 million package of concessions will do little to ease the burden of MTR fare rises on travellers, critics say.
Passengers will see fares rise by up to HK$1.40 per trip from June 17, but the MTR Corporation yesterday set out a package of measures to offset the effect of the increase, including a monthly pass for frequent travellers on the Tung Chung line and free travel for children aged up to 11 on weekends and public holidays.
The company said it was introducing the concessions - rather than scrapping a 5.4 per cent fare rise - because it wanted to stick to a fare adjustment mechanism that was agreed with the government.
But critics, including a transport expert and lawmakers, say the corporation will be the winner, despite the fact it is spending more on the concessions than the HK$617 million it expects to receive from the fare increase.
MTR Corporation CEO Jay Walder said it had listened to different views and had produced an effective package of measures that would benefit a wide range of customers.
The promotions, each of which will run for about six months, will begin with a 'make 10 journeys, get one free' deal for travellers on weekdays.
From October, a monthly pass for the Tung Chung line will be available, priced at HK$550 and benefitting 20,000 travellers per month. Frequent travellers are expected to save up to 30 per cent of their travel costs.
The free weekend and holiday journeys for children will begin in July, and from the end of the year all Octopus card holders will receive a 10 per cent discount on every second trip taken on the same day.
Dr Hung Wing-tat, a transport analyst at Polytechnic University, said the changes could benefit the MTR. He suggested that no fare rise was needed.
'Its Tung Chung line is quite empty most of the time. By offering a monthly pass, it might even take commuters off the buses and on to the train,' he said.
'The MTR needs to raise its fares because it has to play by the rules. If we consider also the profit the company gains in [calculations under] the mechanism, the same might not happen.'
Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, chairman of the Legislative Council's transport panel, said the MTR was 'playing with numbers'.
'The packages are complicated and it would be difficult to count whether all the HK$617 million revenue was repaid to commuters by the end of the scheme,' he said.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said the MTR should drop the fare rise plan, and the Federation of Trade Unions called for a monthly pass for all lines.
The fare adjustment mechanism was introduced in 2007 after the MTR took over the railway operations of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation.
The Transport and Housing Bureau said in April that an independent consultant would review the formula in the second half of the year.
The amount fares rose by last year. A fare adjustment mechanism aims to strike a balance between affordability and profitability