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Driven interests of the Minibus Lobby

Friday, September 6, 2002

We believe that some departments under the leadership of Dr Sarah Liao Sau-tung, the Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works, have in the past not challenged transport lobbyists’ definitions of ”practicable” (”Extending use of LPG in Hong Kong faces physical constraints,” South China Morning Post, August 23) and have even argued that the profits of privately held companies should take precedence over the respiratory health of Hong Kong’s children. Let us take minibuses as an example.

Two-thirds of all green minibuses are under the control of a handful of Hong Kong billionaires. Three companies alone hold 627 licences (25 per cent).

Each licence costs more than $3 million payable to the current licence holder. The minibus lobby claims this is ”widely dispersed ownership”. If you have a licence, and the minibus passes the yearly emissions test, you can renew your licence indefinitely and do not have to compete in the open market. A sweet deal indeed.

The government wants to ban diesel minibuses and has offered a huge subsidy ($60,000 to $100,000 per green minibus) to encourage licence holders to convert away from diesel vehicles. We applaud those who take advantage of the offer. However, the minibus lobby has successfully blocked the ban. Surprisingly, the lobby also vigorously opposed the subsidy because this ”corporate welfare” package was not big enough. They wanted the offer to last 10 years instead of two, and fought to increase minibus seats from 16 to 24.

At the weekend, the minibus lobby used their paid employees (drivers) as front men in a slow-drive protest to try to demand further concessions from the government for red minibuses.

We do not believe the current licensing system is in the best interest of Hong Kong. Licence holders do not have to compete with more environmentally conscious firms who wish to offer better service and use liquefied-petroleum gas or electric minibuses.

LINCOLN CHAN Clear the Air

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