Subsidy treat for over 2m commuters

Top News | Sum Lok-kei 12 Oct 2017

More than two million commuters are in line to receive transport subsidies next year - some up to HK$300.

An opposition lawmaker commented that if a third of the population is to be subsidized, the government should then look into whether transport fares are too high.

Under the public transport fare subsidy scheme announced by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, commuters do not need to enroll or undergo a means test, and the subsidy can be availed by those traveling by train, buses, minibuses and ferries.

The subsidies - which cost around HK$2 billion a year - will come from the HK$4 billion annual dividend that the government receives from MTR Corp Ltd. Under the scheme, commuters will get a 25 percent refund of the monthly amount they shell out after HK$400.

For instance, a commuter who spends HK$600 on public transport will see a HK$50 subsidy added to his or her Octopus card the following month.

The subsidy's ceiling is HK$300, which means that to maximize the subsidy, a commuter will have to spend HK$1,600 on public transport each month.

However, certain rides, such as those in red minibuses and estate shuttle buses, are not covered by the scheme as they are not regulated by the government, sources said.

Commuters can avail of the subsidy by "reading" an Octopus card with mobile phone applications or by presenting it to customer service booths at MTR stations.

New terminals may also be added to MTR stations to facilitate the scheme, sources said.

It is understood the government will seek funding approval from the Legislative Council's Finance Committee in the coming months. It hopes to implement the scheme within a year after funding is approved.

Other discount schemes offered by transport services providers, such as the HK$2 reduced fare for the elderly offered by MTRCL, will not be affected, sources said.

MTRCL chairman Frederick Ma Si- hang said he was pleased to hear about the subsidy. "We fully support it and we expect the scheme, together with the existing fare concessions offered by MTRCL, will further reduce the transport expenses of passengers," he said.

Kowloon Motor Bus and Long Win Bus said they welcome the scheme and will cooperate with the government.

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho said the government should also review the level of public transport fares.

"When you consider that one third of Hong Kong's population needs subsidy, does it not mean that transport costs are too expensive? Should you not do more instead of using subsidies to support these companies to make profits?" Tam said.

Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker Edward Lau Kwok-fan said the scheme should also cover red minibuses and shuttle buses provided by private estates.

Some commuters only take red minibuses to work, he said.

A 55-year-old clerk, surnamed Liu, said the subsidy amount is insufficient.

Liu said she commutes from Tai Wai to her workplace in Wan Chai and she spends more than HK$700 every month for transport.

"After some calculations, I know that I can only get less than HK$100 each month, which can only cover the cost of one to two meals in Wan Chai," Liu said.

"But it is better than nothing."

Some people, commenting on Facebook, are wondering if the subsidy will also benefit parallel traders, who frequently travel on the MTR to transport goods to Lo Wu.

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