Redouble efforts to improve transport services for the disabled

There are only 156 special buses in Hong Kong to meet the needs of 320,000 people who cannot move freely, even for medical appointments

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 4:27am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 4:27am

A place that prides itself on a world-class urban transport system should be user-friendly to people who need special services to keep medical or rehabilitation appointments, or just to get around comfortably in ways other people take for granted. But such service delivery is not to be found so easily in transport for the disabled. As a result, according to the latest report of the Ombudsman, the disabled face a severe shortage of specially designed buses, with only 156 for more than 320,000 people who cannot move freely.

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The Ombudsman said the government never assessed demand for rehabilitation bus services, failed to encourage the growth of alternative vehicles and lacked a timetable for the barrier-free transportation policy. In individual cases that reflected the criticism, a retiree who uses a wheelchair said she needed to book the Rehabus service two to three months in advance for non-peak hours; and a polio victim had to reschedule medical appointments periodically for fear of missing out on transport even if he booked a bus three months in advance. From 2011 to 2015, according to the Ombudsman, between 108,920 and 126,827 people applied for the rehabilitation bus service each year, and 30 to 34 per cent either failed to receive the service or gave up on their application.

The Labour and Welfare Bureau’s reply reveals that considerable funds have gone into building services from a low base. Over the past 10 years, it has funded the Society for Rehabilitation to buy 61 extra vehicles and is to allocate funds to buy eight more in 2017-18, bringing the fleet size to 164. The government concedes that the supply still falls short of demand for the dial-a-ride service, particularly for medical appointments and social activities. It has allocated extra funds for the society to introduce more hospital feeder routes and dedicated services during non-peak hours or holidays.

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The Labour and Welfare Bureau will consider a recommendation to comprehensively assess the demand of special transport services. The current mismatch between demand and supply indicates this is necessary and overdue. After all, an affluent society is judged by how well it cares for the less well off, the elderly and the disadvantaged.