More than half of trips in district may be cut
More than half of the 26 bus routes serving Eastern District may be axed or have the number of their trips cut if a proposal by the Transport Department is approved. And cuts in the other 17 districts may follow.
Hong Kong Island could lose at least 163 bus trips a day, or 4,890 trips a month, if the department's latest development plan to remove four routes that either end at or pass by Eastern District wins support from the district council. Another 11 bus routes may be shortened, or run less frequently.
But a district councillor said the council was unlikely to accept such drastic changes.
Sources familiar with the plan said this was only the first step of a major realignment scheme that sought to consolidate and reduce the number of buses running along the island's main arteries such as King's Road and Hennessy Road.
'At any bus stop along King's Road, a passenger always has dozens of bus lines to choose from, all going more or less along the same route,' a government source said.
'This neither helps improve air quality nor the bus operator's finances.'
Similar-sized cuts are also expected in plans for Wan Chai and Central and Western districts, to be released in February. The same principle applies to Nathan Road, the often choked-up convergence point for buses from Kowloon and the New Territories.
Air-quality reviewers have advised the government to cut 10 per cent of bus trips by 2010 through route rationalisation.
Eastern District councillor Lai Chi-keung agreed that some of the bus routes should be merged, but he expected the suggestion to merge bus No 19 - an old route serving mainly schoolchildren between North Point and Happy Valley - with No 63, which goes from North Point to Stanley prison, would face strong protests from the community. 'No 19 was 83 per cent full during peak hours, and it has been running for a long time. Why are they cutting it?'
A spokeswoman for New World First Bus said No 19 sometimes carried only a dozen passengers outside peak hours, and most passengers only went as far as Causeway Bay from Happy Valley.
Other proposed reductions include a night bus running between Central and Sha Tin, a service between Wan Chai and Braemar Hill, and a holiday route between Stanley and Siu Sai Wan.
The department is proposing additional services for five harbour-crossing routes in its latest plan.
A bus route can have trips added only if its occupancy rate in the busiest hour of the day exceeds 85 per cent.
One bus route at least ran on its last legs yesterday.
Fans of bus No 70 waved it a fond farewell as one of Hong Kong's oldest bus routes was taken off the roster after 40 years in service.
No 70, the first Kowloon Motor Bus line to run between Sheung Shui and Jordan, started in January 1968. It pulled out of the Jordan terminus at 12.35am yesterday for the last time.
The route, which was served mainly by a non-air-conditioned bus that took two hours to complete each run, was only 21 per cent full on average in 2006.
Fans agreed it was inefficient to keep the route, but they had been unwilling to let it go for sentimental reasons.
KMB is also planning to trim routes between Tin Shui Wai and Jordan as it expects a drop in patronage after the Kowloon Southern Link comes into service next year.