KEEN competition in the transport industry and rising costs have led China Motor Bus Co (CMB) to post a 66.6 per cent plunge in net profit for the six months to December. Attributable profit fell to $17.65 million, from $52.91 million in the previous first half. Earnings per share were 38 cents, against $1.14 per share a year earlier. The company said turnover slipped 3.5 per cent to $376.76 million from $390.51 million. Escalating costs slashed the company's operating profit by 65 per cent to $20.69 million, from $59.06 million. Despite the profit slide, directors held the interim dividend steady at 21 cents a share. However, they took the axe to the special dividend, recommending a 16-cent payout compared with 40 cents a share in the previous period. The company has been operating bus services on Hong Kong Island since 1933 under a special franchise granted by the government. It said it applied for a fare increase in August last year, which the Government approved only last month. The company attributed its poor performance to this delay and to rising costs, and said poor traffic conditions affected its competitiveness. 'The decrease in profit for the period ended December 31 has been caused [mainly] by this delay in obtaining the fare increase, together with rising operating costs,' the company said. Passenger numbers dropped during the first half, the company said. They fell 3.7 per cent to 92.97 million passengers, from 96.53 million previously. 'Traffic congestion continues to disrupt our services, reducing the competitiveness of our buses with other modes of transport and reducing operating efficiency,' the company said. 'The continuing construction activity associated with a number of infrastructure projects on Hong Kong Island is particularly affecting the reliability of our services.' Service routes operated by the company are not generally popular among commuters. In September last year, the company lost 14 routes. On Tuesday, more than 600 maintenance workers at the company's Chai Wan depot went on strike for 81/2 hours in protest against its scheme to stop workers from claiming overtime spent at home.