MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): The transport development in Hong Kong has all along been taken forward in the direction of mass carriers. The rail passenger system has gradually achieved quite comprehensive development whereas the other modes of public transport have gradually been reduced to a supplementary or supporting role and as stated in the motion, they have indeed been marginalized and their services are retrogressing. This has given rise to many problems in the overall public transport policy. Therefore, I agree that the transport policies should be reviewed. In tandem with the continuous development of the railway network, it is also necessary to ensure the healthy development of other modes of public transport, so that the public can enjoy more comprehensive and reasonable transport services suiting their needs.
Many Members have raised a diversity of views today. I would like to focus on the development of public light buses (PLBs) which provide support for the railway network. The Government has developed a transport system using railway as the backbone, but to optimize the benefits of the mass transit system, it is actually necessary to rely on PLBs as a means of transport for the public to commute between their housing estates and the railway stations. Particularly in the New Territories or the remote districts, the residents are all the more reliant on the PLB services.
However, following the continuous railway development, PLBs should supposedly have seen very good development in parallel, but this is not the case in reality. As a supplementary mode of public transport providing support for the railway, PLBs have always been popular among the public, but given an increased patronage, the public have to wait in long queues during peak hours and it is very difficult to get on a PLB at intermediate stops, and the situation of lost trips is serious. An increase in their frequency will inevitably lead to further traffic congestions and aggravate roadside air pollution. Meanwhile, it is difficult to recruit sufficient PLB drivers due to the wage factor. All of these have made it difficult for PLBs to increase their frequency substantially.
As a result, while the railway can speedily carry a large number of passengers from their workplace to the MTR stations in the vicinity of their housing estates, the public may need to wait for a long time before boarding a PLB at the MTR station for home. This has reflected that the development of the transport policy is far from healthy. Even though the railway can carry a large number of people efficiently, it is still futile if the feeder services cannot catch up.
With a considerable increase in the carrying capacity of railways, the carrying capacity of various supplementary modes of public transport has also increased, such as the Government’s approval for franchised bus operators to introduce 12.8 meters-long buses which are longer in length and have a greater passenger capacity, the issue of more taxi licences in 1994 and 1997, and so on.
I think the Government should also consider upgrading the carrying capacity of PLBs. PLBs are originally designed to have 24 seats, just that the existing legislation has rigidly stipulated the provision of only 16 seats, which has restricted their original carrying capacity from being fully utilized. Therefore, we should consider removing the restriction on the number of seats of PLBs, subject to a cap of 24 seats. I believe this will create a five-win situation for Hong Kong.
First, the public will win. Increasing the number of seats from 16 to 24 will immediately increase the carrying capacity by 50%. This will help resolve the problem of long queues of passengers waiting for PLBs during peak hours and once the waiting time is shortened, the public will be provided with better services. Moreover, an increase in the carrying capacity can greatly relieve the pressure of fare increase to the benefit of the public.
Second, the Government will win. This measure will enable the Government to immediately increase the carrying capacity of PLBs by 50% to address the inadequacy of the carrying capacity of supplementary modes of public transport during peak hours in the most environmentally-friendly way and without having to spend one single cent out of the public coffers.
Third, the PLB drivers will win. As the carrying capacity of each vehicle is increased, the PLB operators can have the resources to increase drivers’ wages and provide more benefits and training to them, which will in turn enhance the quality of service and attract more people to join the trade.
Fourth, the trade will win. This measure can address the operational difficulties of the PLB trade and the plights faced by it in sustaining their operation. This can also obviate the need of discontinuing the loss-making routes which would otherwise render the public affected, and alleviate the pressure of fare increase.
Fifth, the environment will win. This measure can release the original carrying capacity of PLBs without having to expand the fleet of PLBs, and immediately increase the carrying capacity by 50% in the most environmentally-friendly way.
Many other organizations and I had put forward this proposal before but the Government of the previous terms had all along neglected it. In view of the rapid changes in society, the Government should adopt a new mindset in administration. It should not be hesitant anymore and should introduce this all-win proposal at once.
I so submit.