Minibus operators say plans to introduce seat belts and high seat backs on new vehicles from the middle of 2004 will not lead to higher fares. The Environment, Transport and Works Bureau has proposed, in a paper to the Legislative Council, that the seat belt legislation be extended to include passenger seats of public light buses. The bureau said an analysis of statistics revealed that the accident rate and the passenger seat casualty rate per thousand licensed public light buses was high. Last year, the figures for light buses were 229 and 177 respectively while those for all motor vehicles were 28 and 10. The bureau estimates that the cost of the seat belts and facilities will increase the vehicle price by five to 10 per cent. It also proposes introducing high-backed seats, saying they could absorb the impact between the body and the back-rest in an accident. Leung Hung, chairman of the Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories Public and Maxicab Light Bus Merchants United Association, said the extra costs would be borne by the operators because 'business is already bad and any fare increase will only put off more passengers'. Before the Asian financial crisis in 1998, each minibus could bring in as much as $1,000 per day shift but now daily turnover has slumped by up to 40 per cent, he said. There are about 4,350 minibuses in Hong Kong.