Hong Kong lawmakers slam bus operators Citybus and New World First Bus over call for 12 per cent fare rise
Proposal comes a decade after the last fare increase, with companies citing falling revenues from increased staff wages, competition and operating costs
Groups across the political spectrum in Hong Kong slammed two franchised bus operators on Friday and accused them of increasing the burden on the public by pushing for a 12 per cent fare rise.
While it has been 10 years since the last fare increase by Citybus and New World First Bus, lawmakers said the current proposed percentage was too much.
The bus companies, both owned by NWS Holdings, said they had seen revenues drop significantly owing to competition from the MTR’s Island Line extension and the new South Island Line, as well as rising operational costs from toll increases, higher oil prices and staff wages.
While the two operators have submitted the fare proposal application to the government last August, fares for rival KMB will remain the same.
Samuel Cheng Wai-po, managing director of Citybus and New World First Bus, told the Legislative Council’s transport panel on Friday that while the two companies had made more than HK$100 million (US$12.7 million) in the last financial year, they saw a 10 per cent dip in fare revenue.
But Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho said the proposal was excessive.
“Can you look at most of the other transport [operators] who have asked for such a big increase?” he asked. “In the last 10 years, we haven’t seen any approval of an increase of more than 10 per cent.
“If you look at the urban area and other major bus companies, the highest rise was only 5 per cent.”
Citybus, which mainly operates on Hong Kong Island with some cross-harbour routes, has a fleet of 744 vehicles on 85 routes, carrying about 495,000 passengers daily. New World First Bus operates 680 buses on 94 routes with 448,000 passengers a day.
“This [fare increase] would add to the burden of the public,” Democratic Party’s Roy Kwong Chun-yu said. “How much of the increased fare will go to bus drivers and workers?”
Cheng said while no specific percentage for a pay rise for employees had been set, the companies had offered a special increase in wages a few months ago.
Leung Chi-cheung, a pro-establishment lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, shot back: “Of course, there are costs for operating buses. You did not increase fares for 10 years, and now you ask for 12 per cent. It’s not acceptable.”
Leung also suggested that authorities should increase the fare in stages.
Kevin Choi, deputy secretary for transport and housing, said lawmakers’ comments, affordability for the public as well as the operators’ financial situations and prospects would be considered.
“They did not increase fares for 10 years and they are now under certain financial pressure,” Choi noted. “That is a fact. As for whether increases will be in phases, the final decision will be made by the chief executive and the Executive Council.”