Hong Kong’s labour minister has dismissed reports that a plan to extend a HK$2 public transport scheme to those aged between 60 and 64 would be put on hold, saying the government just needed more time to work out details. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong denied on Saturday that authorities planned to drop or delay the policy over its impact on the city’s coffers, after the move was panned across the political spectrum. The current scheme is only available for those aged 65 or above. In January, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced the lowering of the age threshold to 60 for those who can use public transport at HK$2 per ride. The move was expected to cost the government about HK$1.7 billion (US$219.3 million) annually. But the Post and other media have reported that authorities had considered putting the brakes on the extension to the lower age group because of long-term cost implications, with a government source saying a possible deferral made sense under the economic situation. “We are still working at full steam in examining the report from the consultant on the so-called HK$2 scheme … We have no plan of shelving it, although we can’t tell exactly at what time we can [lower the age threshold],” Law said on Saturday. He insisted that the government still aimed to implement the plan in the next financial year. The extension of the scheme – launched in 2012 and covering MTR lines, franchised buses, ferries and green minibuses – would benefit about 600,000 Hongkongers. It was also likely to encourage more people aged 60 to 64 to re-enter the workforce. The government has engaged a consultancy firm to conduct a comprehensive review of the scheme’s effectiveness and sustainability, including its long-term financial impact. However, Law pointed out some members of the Executive Council, Lam’s de facto cabinet, had expressed concerns about the extension. “We’ve briefed Exco members recently and some have expressed their views. We’ll definitely look at this, and analyse and examine different options,” he said. Law admitted that financial implications would be a consideration, saying that when the extension of the scheme was announced in January, the government had not foreseen that it needed to dish out more than HK$300 billion in relief funds to help businesses and individuals hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic . Another issue was to replace all Octopus cards held by elderly users, with personalised versions to prevent abuse, he said. “At present, there are about 590,000 people aged between 60 and 64. It takes time for all of them to register for personalised Octopus cards, as well as to adjust the system,” he said. In July, Law told the Legislative Council that people abusing the system by using Octopus cards meant for the elderly was also a concern of the government. In 2018, some 3.6 million Octopus cards meant for those aged 65 or above were issued, while there were only 1.27 million people aged 65 or above in Hong Kong that year. Since the scheme was introduced in 2012, the number of eligible users aged 65 or above increased about 35 per cent, from 980,000 to 1.32 million in 2019. It is expected to rise further to more than 1.75 million by 2025. The recurrent expenditure for reimbursing public transport operators under the scheme reached HK$1.3 billion in the last financial year, and is expected to rise to about HK$3 billion by 2025-26. Following the scheme’s extension, the estimated recurrent expenditure was expected to reach HK$7 billion in 2025-26.