New 19-seat minibuses to hit Hong Kong roads next week

Debut follows years of discussions as operators battle rising operating costs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 11:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 August, 2017, 11:20pm

The first batch of 19-seat minibuses will make its debut on local roads next week, after years of discussions and tussling ­between operators and authorities.

For the first time in 29 years, three extra seats will be allowed on top of the current legal limit of 16. But two leading operators have already shot down any room for fare cuts due to rising operational costs.

Starting next week, three 19-seat minibuses will service the following routes: the 101M between Sai Kung and Tseung Kwan O; the 20C in Tai Po; and the 4M in Southern District.

One of the routes is operated by Koon Wing Motors, the city’s largest operator, with a fleet of 700.

Around 100 of the 700 vehicles are long wheelbase models, meaning they could be retrofitted with three extra seats to take ­advantage of the amended law.

Director Robert Ma Kiu-sang expected the conversion to be completed by the end of this year. Vehicles that cannot be converted are to be gradually phased out.

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But he did not expect the extra seats to drive down operating costs.

“It will boost our fleet’s efficiency during peak hours, but we still have to run a fixed timetable and frequency due to licensing constraints,” he said.

The industry has been dealing with rising operating costs in recent years
Chan Man-chun, AMS Public Transport Holdings

His views were echoed by Chan Man-chun of AMS Public Transport Holdings, another major operator in the city.

“There is definitely no room for fare cuts … the industry has been dealing with rising operating costs in recent years,” Chan said.

AMS will retrofit about 90 of its long wheelbase models. Chan said each minibus would cost HK$24,000 to modify.

Both operators have placed orders for 500 new Toyota minibuses. Depending on fuel type and configuration, each bus costs between HK$680,000 and HK$730,000.