“Right now we’re still making an assessment of the fare rise applications. We haven’t made a conclusion yet but we won’t necessarily approve the proposed increases,” Lee said.
The deputy minister added that authorities would consider various factors, such as public affordability and companies’ operating costs, before making a decision.
But Lee also stressed that they would need to balance such factors with the financial sustainability of the transport operators.
“The public bus service is very integral to people’s livelihoods. We will assess the applications prudently. We will be a gatekeeper to carefully examine the applications,” she said.
The companies applying for the fare increases are KMB, the city’s largest bus operator, sister company Long Win Bus, as well as New Lantao Bus, as well as Citybus and New World First Bus.
KMB, Long Win Bus and New Lantao Bus are seeking to raise fees by 9.5 per cent, 8.5 per cent and 9.8 per cent, respectively.
Citybus and New World First Bus, both owned by Bravo Transport, have asked for a flat fare increase of HK$2 (25 US cents) across all urban and New Territories routes and a 23 per cent rise for Lantau and boundary services.
The firms have also proposed a 50 per cent price increase for “airbus” services to and from the airport.
Most of the city’s franchised bus operators have recorded hefty losses in recent years due to wage increases, higher fuel costs, as well as plummeting ridership amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Citybus and New World First Bus were the hardest hit, posting losses of almost HK$340 million and HK$87 million respectively from 2019 to 2021.
Meanwhile, Long Win Bus and New Lantao Bus lost more than HK$40 million and HK$420 million, respectively, during the 2020 and 2021 financial years.
KMB was the only franchised bus company to turn a profit in 2020 and 2021, which totalled around HK$317.5 million.
Bravo Transport Services CEO Adam Leishman on Friday said the proposed fare for its airbus services was the first since 1998, while the other fee rises would be the third in 15 years, explaining there was a big gap between the cost inflation and the increases.
“I understand the sentiment but there is a real justification … to get our business back to a financially healthy situation,” he said.
“This is a systemic problem with cost inflation and the loss of passengers [occurring] over an extended period of time.”
But many lawmakers opposed the increases and called on authorities to find ways for the bus operators to diversify their income, such as allowing them to run convenience stores and cafes at interchange areas and on their own properties.
They also urged the government to reform the fare adjustment mechanism to align with outstanding inflation.
Lawmaker and former Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun said the Citybus and New World First Bus’ proposed HK$2 flat fare increase represented a jump of about 25 per cent and around seven times the rate of accumulated inflation over the past two years.
“This is really invoking…
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