【明報專訊】THE GOVERNMENT and the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC) have agreed on a new fare adjustment mechanism. While more controls have been imposed on fare increases, the MTRC, in which the government is the major shareholder and which enjoys all sorts of policy favour and business privilege, is apparently not switching its focus to its inherent role as a railway company that serves the public, and earning money remains its first priority. In fact, the new mechanism worked out by the government and the MTRC may, strictly speaking, be regarded as an attempt to fool the public.
Under the new mechanism, the fare adjustment formula will take into account three additional factors: the MTRC’s annual profit, its service performance, and public affordability, minus a productivity factor (raised from the present 0.1 percent to 0.6 percent). According to the old mechanism, MTR fares would, starting from June, increase by 3.2 percent, whereas the new mechanism means an overall increase of 2.7 percent. There is a difference of only 0.5 percent, which is a far cry from public expectations.
Last year, the MTRC increased its fares by 5.4 percent according to the fare adjustment mechanism. However, in view of the many accidents that had occurred, the MTRC had to bow to political pressure and agreed to offer concessions of about HK$670 million to passengers, which represented the additional income from last year’s fare increase. In terms of such concessions, the new mechanism offers passengers far less than what they got last year. This year’s concessions, to amount to about HK$219 million, compare badly with last year’s.
Under the new arrangement, a certain share of the MTRC’s annual underlying business profits will be allocated to a “fare concession account" to provide a 10 percent discount on every second trip within the same day. If we base our calculations on the MTRC’s profits last year, which amounted to HK$9.8 billion, the corporation will give passengers fare concessions worth HK$150 million, or about 1.5 percent of its profits – a negligible amount for a corporation with an annual profit of almost HK$10 billion. But even so, there is a clever clause to protect the MTRC’s interests, which provides that the amount put into the fare concession account shall be capped at half of the additional income from the corresponding year’s fare increase. So this so-called “profit-sharing" scheme is in fact a scheme to protect the MTRC’s profits, so that in future the corporation will not have to yield to political pressure and give back as concessions to passengers all the additional income from fare hikes, as it did last year.
Then again, the new fare adjustment mechanism stipulates that the fare increase in any given year shall not be higher than the change in median monthly household income. While this appears to put a cap on fare hikes, the shortfall not factored into the corresponding year’s fares will not be cancelled, but will be accumulated and recovered in the following years. Such an arrangement, apparently designed less in regard to public affordability than in regard to the MTRC’s interests, in effect allows the corporation to legally increase fares as much as possible.
From fare increases to concessions to passengers, everything in the new mechanism worked out by the government and the MTRC represents not so much an attempt to relieve passengers’ financial burden as an attempt to rationalise the MTRC’s fare increases and the enormous profits it reaps from property developments. The public was expecting that, in conducting a review with the MTRC of its fare adjustment mechanism, the government would do away with some of the unreasonable arrangements and protect the interests of the public. The outcome of the review has fallen far short of public expectations.
明報社評 2013.04.17﹕票價機制保障港鐵賺錢 市民利益未獲優先照顧
inherent﹕existing as an inseparable part; essential in nature
bow to﹕agree unwillingly to do something because other people want you to
rationalise﹕try to justify one’s actions or beliefs that do not seem reasonable or suitable