Enjoy the ride - don't worry about fare subsidy abuse

Top News | Sum Lok-kei and Phoenix Un 13 Oct 2017

There will be ways to prevent misuse of the Public Transport Fare Subsidy Scheme, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said yesterday. But he would not disclose how it can be done.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said two million commuters will benefit from a public transport fare subsidy scheme next year, under which the government will subsidize 25 percent of transport expenses after the first HK$400 is spent, with the limit set at HK$300 per month.

The HK$2 billion annual subsidy will come from the HK$4 billion yearly dividend the government receives from MTR Corp Ltd.

Asked about concerns that parallel traders will benefit from the subsidy as they frequently travel on the MTR to and from Lo Wu, Chan said the government knows the subsidy may be used in "unexpected" ways, but that measures could be introduced to mitigate misuse if necessary.

"For every dollar spent, users have to pay 75 cents," he said. "So if someone wants to misuse the subsidy, he will have to pay three times the cost."

Chan said there are about 10 million Octopus cards in circulation, and those holders spending more than HK$2,000 a month are only "in the thousands."

On a lawmaker's suggestion to apply the subsidy to only the two million personalized Octopus cards, Chan said it may drive up administrative costs and cause inconvenience to people. Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing (Transport) Joseph Lai Yee-tak explained that red minibuses and shuttle buses provided by private housing estates are not covered, as their fare prices are not regulated by the government.

"We have included as many transport as possible, but as fare prices of red minibuses and shuttle buses provided by private housing estates aren't regulated by the government, we can't include them," Lai said.

In yesterday morning's joint radio program, Lam was also questioned by residents in Northern District, who are worried that parallel traders and mainland tourists will again flood Sheung Shui.

"It's not a joke if the government subsidizes parallel traders, as we will be trapped in misery," a man surnamed Wong said. "On October 1 and 2, Sheung Shui was full of mainland tourists."

Lam replied that the government had already balanced the needs of all residents, and would take care of those who stay in Hong Kong for long periods and take public transport often.

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