(Public Enterprises Bus Company) Routes revamp a thinkable trade-off

Mary Ma

Monday, October 15, 2012

Franchised bus company Kowloon Motor Bus recorded a loss of HK$15 million in the first half of the year.

Senior company officials sparked fears that the SAR’s largest bus operator intends to seek fare increases by speaking at great length on Friday about escalating costs.

It’s certainly the last thing transport minister Anthony Cheung Bing-leung wants, as he already has the MTR hot potato to handle over in the form of a fare adjustment mechanism that – if unchanged – will likely kick in with another hike next year.

Coupled with the power firms’ threats to jack up electricity tariffs, a KMB application to raise fares would only worsen things for a government already reeling from sagging (Decreasing) popularity.

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Maybe it would be in everyone’s interest to head KMB off from climbing aboard the bandwagon(浪潮). The bus operator has cited several reasons for the pressure on fares: higher costs for fuel and wages, and passenger losses to an MTR operator that has expanded its service to areas where buses used to be the main means of transport.

Fuel costs and wage movements are subject to the macro environment that KMB can respond to. There is much it can and should do to revamp routes, with a view to enhancing cost effectiveness.

According to the firm, 70 percent of its existing 400 routes are being operated at a loss, while half of them are competing with the MTR amid its rapid expansion.

Unless it can divert its bus fleet to break new ground, the pressure for fare hikes will become a structural problem that both the bus company and the commuting public will be forced to face.

The existing arrangement, allowing the Executive Council to curb any fare hike, can’t overcome the structural defect alone.

Anyone who’s been on route 690 from Central to Hong Sing Garden in Tseung Kwan O will see that the buses carry only a handful of passengers.

Why wouldn’t the vehicles be largely empty, since people can travel by the MTR more cheaply and without the nuisance of traffic congestion?

Equally amazing is the operation of route 690 that almost duplicates 692. Surely, this can be ratified with some common sense.

KMB claims it has wanted to revamp certain routes to enhance cost- effectiveness, as well as opening new areas that can be better served. But it alleges local politicians in district councils stand in the way. Like any commercial operation, it’s in KMB’s own interest to shed loss-making routes to concentrate on those profitable ones.

The firm has a vested interest in making the accusation that politicians are interfering. Nonetheless, the issue should be viewed as a whole. KMB’s plea isn’t entirely without merit.

If half of the loss-making routes are outdated, that’s a problem. If partisan politics is at fault for the structural defect, it’s in the public’s interest to break it.

If routes are rationalized, people will breathe in emissions, while pressure to hike fares would be reduced.

So, let’s break the vicious cycle.

http://www.thestandard.com.hk/news_detail.asp?we_cat=21&art_id=127321&sid=37911304&con_type=1&d_str=20121015&fc=2

 

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