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Public short-changed by government’s decision to extend three bus franchises


Clear the Air says: there are more than 6,000 franchised registered buses in Hong Kong. The franchise holders pay no import or first registration tax and pay no tax on diesel fuel.

Existing franchise agreements already state that any replacement buses must be of the Best Available Current Technology (which means Euro V diesel, hybrid electric, hydrogen fuel cell or electric vehicle ) and that buses must be retired after a certain age so the replacement of only 700 buses  is minimalist and too much in favour of the franchise holders.

However the Government has a magic wand that remains locked in Donald Tsang’s home safe for fear of perhaps annoying Sun Hung Kai (owners of KMB) or  his brother Tsang Yam Pui who is a director of Citybus and New World First Bus – with the magic wand the Government could mandate ‘Clean Air Zones’ for Nathan Road, Causeway Bay and Central main arteries.

Only Euro 5 , hybrid electric and electric buses would be allowed to enter a ‘Clean Air Zone’.  The franchise owners would thereby have to comply and spit the dummy.

A sensible Government would have large bus termini outside of these areas connecting at no additional charge to electric or hybrid shuttles that ply the ‘Clean Air Zones’, instead of having nose to tail buses aka Mobile Painted Advertising Billboards, plying and congesting the main arteries 90% empty for 80% of the day.  Then of course there are the old commercial diesel trucks and the lack of any Emissions Control Area for shipping which contributes 31% of particulates and ¼ of the  NOx and SO2 in our air.

Sadly sense is lacking in the current administration and roadside pollution has increased markedly during their tenure – they seem not to care and are seemingly too busy jetting off to cleaner shores or hitching rides on a tobacco tycoon’s yacht or abusing the public purse with extravagance .

CY Leung is being handed a bag of  bones to resolve.

May 02, 2012
It comes as no surprise that the public is unimpressed by the government’s decision to extend the franchise for three bus companies. Under the deal, New World First Bus, Citybus and Long Win have been given the right to operate for another 10 years. In return they have pledged more service commitments and fare concessions on some routes.

The public can be excused for questioning whether this is the best deal the government could get. The concessions appear to be substantial at first glance. These include replacing 700 polluting vehicles by 2016. There will be more inter-change discounts and reduced fares for different sections.

These are certainly welcome changes. But they do not go far enough. For instance, the fare concessions will only benefit some 8,000 passengers, out of millions carried by the fleet every day. The move to take polluting buses off the road appears to be a cosmetic gesture, since many vehicles, according to activists, are due to retire by 2018 anyway. The deal falls short of public expectations.

The government could have pushed the companies to do more when negotiating the franchise renewal. It is disappointing that issues like buses running behind schedules, overlapped routes and the perception of the fare adjustments mechanism being unfair have not been resolved. Now that the franchise has been renewed, pushing for more would be difficult. Passengers will have to live with the service in the next 10 years. The opportunity to tackle the problems has been missed.

Renewing franchises of passenger service companies and utilities can only be justified for as long as the operator is committed to providing a good service. The termination of the franchise for China Motor Bus and Yau Ma Tei ferry in 1998 is a case in point. There is no evidence to suggest that the three bus companies do not deserve renewal. But franchises give companies the exclusive right to operate and make money. It is only fair that they strive to do more to satisfy public needs.

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