The MTR's fare concessions announced alongside its 3.6 per cent increase in ticket prices were criticised yesterday as another money-spinning exercise.
Transport analyst Dr Hung Wing-tat said the MTR could have offered free journeys first thing in the morning, while lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said the MTR should offer discounts for other non-peak hours.
The MTR announced on Tuesday that it will offer a 25 per cent discount for passengers travelling to 29 urban stations between 7.15am and 8.15am on weekdays from September, and a HK$400 "City Saver" ticket will be launched next month, allowing passengers 40 MTR trips covering 54 stations in 30 days.
Passengers will also be able to enjoy a 10 per cent discount on every second trip in a day.
The MTR said the concessions were worth HK$500 million to passengers, helping offset the impact of its 3.6 per cent fare increase, which kicks in on June 29. Commercial director Jeny Yeung Mei-chun said the financial burden of allowing early birds to travel for free, as in Singapore, would be unsustainable. She also noted that the Singapore scheme was paid for by the government. She believed the scheme would see just a few per cent of peak-hour passengers set off earlier to take advantage of the cheaper fares.
"Our system is already very busy. If it gets even busier because of bigger concessions, services could be affected," she said.
Hung said the early-bird and City Saver schemes would attract more passengers and generate more revenue.
He pointed out that the MTR was utilising spare capacity during non-peak hours to offer discounts. This would attract more passengers from other transport and some MTR passengers would spill over from peak hours when the system was already operating at maximum capacity anyway. He argued that the scheme therefore came at no cost to the railway giant, which was in a position to scrap fares altogether for early birds.
Hung noted that most of the network was built by the government, which fully owned the MTR until 2000. "The MTR was given the infrastructure and they use it to make money," he said.
Tien argued for afternoon discounts. "Why should a worker arrive at the office earlier if he can't leave earlier?" he asked. "If the worker buys coffee or breakfast, he is not saving any money."