[港鐵票價] Editorial New Fare Adjustment Mechanism

【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

政府與港鐵達成的港鐵調整票價新機制,雖然港鐵加價受到較多制約,但是政府作為大股東、享盡政策傾斜和經營特權的港鐵,並無迹象會回歸「生而為鐵路服務」的本質,仍然是賺錢優先。所以,政府與港鐵達成的新機制,嚴格而言有戲弄市民之嫌。

港鐵票價新機制,按原來方程式加上盈利狀况、服務表現及市民負擔能力,然後減去生產力因素(本來為0.1%,新機制改為0.6%)。若按舊機制,港鐵由6月起加價3.2%,新機制則加價2.7%,只是少加了0.5個百分點而已,與市民期望有顯著落差。

去年港鐵加價之前事故頻仍,雖然按機制加價了5.4%,但是迫於政治壓力,港鐵承諾把加價收入約6.7億元,全數回饋乘客,以乘客可享回饋優惠而言,新機制較去年遠有不如。新機制下,港鐵將少收車費約2.19億元,與去年相差很遠。

另外,新安排之下,港鐵就每年基本業務利潤,撥出一定金額設立「票價優惠帳戶」,用作即日第2程車費九折優惠,以去年利潤約98億元計算,港鐵將撥出1.5億元作優惠,佔利潤比例約1.5%。港鐵年賺百億元計,這個比例可說微不足道,即使如此,箇中還有一個竅妙以保障港鐵的利益,就是「有關優惠金額上限為該年因票價上調所得的額外收入的一半」。這個所謂「分享盈利」計劃,實質上是港鐵的利潤保障計劃,類如去年港鐵迫於政治壓力,把加價所得全數作優惠的日子,將成為歷史。

另外,票價新機制引入了加價幅度不高於「家庭每月收入中位數」的按年變動。表面上,這是為加幅封頂,但是,設若因為超過家庭每月收入中位數按年變動的一部分,今年未能反映在票價上,卻不會一筆勾消,而是累積起來,待日後追加。這種安排,若說為了照顧乘客的負擔能力,不如說是法理上讓港鐵可以加到盡。

從加價到優惠,政府與港鐵達成的新機制,與其說減輕乘客負擔,不如說是讓港鐵加價和地產業務賺大錢合理化。市民原本期望政府透過與港鐵檢討加價機制,改變一些不合理情况,保障市民利益,但是商討結果,顯然與市民期望有很大差距。

Glossary

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

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