They are angry at being barred from Route 3, which they say could save passengers time About 150 minibus drivers staged a slow-drive protest from Yuen Long to Central yesterday following the government's refusal to allow them to operate on the Route 3 highway. The drivers fear that their business might drop by half when the West Rail linking the northwestern New Territories and Kowloon opens in September. They have demanded that the government allow red minibuses to use Route 3 and the Tai Lam Tunnel to increase their competitive edge against the new rail. Some drivers have threatened to go on strike if their demand is not met. Minibus drivers from Yuen Long who provide services to urban areas such as Jordan and Mongkok now use Castle Peak Road, where journeys take an hour - twice as long as using Route 3. Secretary for Environment, Transport and Works Sarah Liao Sau-tung said the drivers' demand would not be accepted unless they agreed to switch to green minibuses. Dr Liao urged the drivers not to stage any protests that might affect social order. 'It is the government's policy and in the interests of the public to promote green minibus operations, which are regulated by the government. We hope the drivers can work with us and move towards this direction to solve the problem,' she said. Under the present minibus policy, red minibus operators are allowed to devise routes and set fares without approval from the Transport Department. But their operation is still subject to traffic control measures, such as those that ban them on certain highways. The 150 minibus drivers yesterday drove from Yuen Long via Route 3 to Jordan, then drove across the harbour to the Tamar site and sent some representatives to the Government Headquarters to petition. The drivers claimed passengers could save at least 30 minutes by using Route 3 and the tunnel compared with the Castle Peak Road route, despite the $60 tunnel toll. Hui Siu-keung, a driver who operates between Yuen Long and Tsuen Wan, said Dr Liao's suggestion that operators switch to green minibuses was naive. 'It is difficult to change to green minibuses. You have to get the Transport Department to design the routes and operators have to pool resources to form companies to bid for these routes,' he said. 'We don't have the resources to do that. All those routes will fall into the hands of the big companies.' Mr Siu said drivers could cut their fare from $16 to $14 if they were allowed to save time by using Route 3. This would make minibuses more competitive against West Rail, which will charge $16. The opening of the West Rail in September is expected to bring tremendous changes to the delicate balance of the transport operators in the northwestern New Territories. Both the light rail system in Yuen Long and Tuen Mun and the franchised bus operators will be restructuring their routes. The Route 3 operator is also expected to suffer as the rail is expected to draw passengers away from the bus operators using the route.