Be fair to public when adjusting MTR train fares
Ticket prices go up year after year under a government-approved adjustment mechanism that has been derided by critics
When the government brought forward a much-touted review of the MTR fare adjustment formula last year, hopes were high that there would be ways to prevent ticket prices from spiralling upwards year after year. But like the review four years ago, the government has once again shied away from pushing for substantive changes.
That the components of the adjustment mechanism have been largely left untouched is to be regretted. Officials instead agreed with the MTR Corporation to just roll out an array of piecemeal discounts and concessions in the coming years. In addition to a one-off 10 per cent discount to be applied to any fare adjustment rate this year, passengers are to get a 3 per cent rebate on fares for every trip using the Octopus card for at least the first six months each year for the next six years. A new discount of 30 cents will also be introduced for commuters switching between the rail network and 500 green minibus routes.
Although the concessions amount to HK$587 million a year, higher than the total of HK$406 million in the past two years, the amount pales when put against the rail giant’s annual profits, ranging from HK$10.1 billion to HK$15.8 billion over the past seven years. But the fact that the MTR Corp is a listed company means it also has to defend shareholders’ interests.
Introduced in 2009 following the merger of the two city rail networks, the formula that takes into account inflation, productivity and wages in the transport industry was meant to adjust fares according to the state of the economy. But continuous economic growth means the formula has never resulted in any fare cuts. So far, the accumulated increase has exceeded 25 per cent, outstripping wage rises in some sectors. Passengers can be excused for feeling short-changed by what they see as an unfair adjustment mechanism.
It is unfortunate that our world-class transportation system has been marred by a controversial fare adjustment mechanism, even more so when officials have not seized the opportunity to rectify the problem once and for all. The government and the rail operator should come up with better measures to address public concerns.