Franchised bus and ferry operators have publicly sought government financial assistance to help them upgrade their fleets and switch to cleaner fuels if they are required to do so. The operators say they are seeking the unspecified help on the assumption that they will not be able to pass on the cost of improvements to the public through higher fares. New World First Ferry - now testing ultra-low-sulphur diesel on three boats - said it could not keep using the fuel because it was too expensive. 'We will be unable to carry on after the end of the trial unless the government helps,' assistant general manger David Wong Yui-cheong told the Legislative Council's environmental affairs panel yesterday. The ferry operator's sister company, New World First Bus, also said a subsidy would be needed if it was told to upgrade its diesel bus fleet ahead of schedule. 'The assumption is that we would not pass on the additional cost to the passengers by raising fares, and therefore a financial subsidy is necessary,' deputy head of corporate communications Elaine Chan Yin-ling said. It would be wasteful to phase out older buses before the end of their supposed life cycle, usually up to 18 years, she said. In its recent air-quality review, the Environment Bureau estimated a 15 per cent fare rise would be needed to replace by 2014 about 4,500 franchised buses that went into service before Euro II emission standards were introduced in 1996 and 1998. Fume-belching diesel buses are blamed for much of the roadside air pollution that persists despite efforts to clean up the environment. Kowloon Motor Bus operations director Tim Ip Chung-tim said the bus-replacement programme was a complicated one that was also governed by manufacturers' ability to supply vehicles. He also warned of the affect on finances and operations. Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said all parties in the community - individuals, government and businesses - would have to pay for better air quality. But he did not say whether the government had any plans to help bus companies upgrade their fleets. The review proposed 19 measures to meet recommended new air-quality objectives, which have not been updated since 1987. Representatives of more than 30 organisations attended yesterday's panel meeting to offer their views on the review. The prevalent view among non-business delegates was that tighter targets should be adopted and the proposed measures implemented as quickly as possible. A public forum will be held on Saturday to gauge public views on the review. Meanwhile, WWF Hong Kong published its 'Climate Policy Address' for Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's reference. It also urged Hong Kong to set a carbon emissions target of 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.