Short-hop fares could open up bus travel in the North West New Territories (NWNT) – but the government is holding up a new KMB trial, says District Councillor Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, who has collected 1,000 signatures on a petition urging the Transport Department (TD) to speed up its act.
Short bus trips within NWNT districts are disproportionately expensive, say councillors supporting the KMB trial, as most buses tend to ply longer city-bound routes, not local circuits.
So, for example, a passenger getting on a Kwai Fong-bound 58M bus in Tuen Mun must pay HK$9.4, even if they are only travelling a few local stops.
Under KMB’s proposal, passengers using 18 long-route buses but only travelling a few stops can tap their Octopus cards at the alighting bus stop and receive an instant discount.
For example, the passenger on the 58M who gets off at Waldorf Garden and taps their Octopus will receive a HK$5.1 refund, paying only HK$4.3 for the trip, more in line with local bus routes elsewhere in Hong Kong.
KMB says it submitted the proposal to TD early this year and has been awaiting approval since then. The bus firm has already installed Octopus readers at around 20 bus stops in preparation for a pilot run, but has no approval to proceed.
Petition organiser Cheung, who chairs the Yuen Long District Council Traffic & Transport Committee, says he expects more signatures to add pressure on TD. “As for what further action we are going to take, we’ll wait for TD’s next announcement,” he says, adding that TD is expected to make a decision in the coming week.
Tuen Mun District Councillor Poon Chi-kin is another local politician championing the cause. “It would be a great news for the residents,” he says. “Some bus routes, like those running from Tuen Mun to other districts, will have quite a few stops in Tuen Mun before leaving the district, so if the scheme is implemented, residents in Tuen Mun could have more choice other than Light Rail.”
As to questions whether opening up long-route buses to local travel might overcrowd the buses and leave long-distance riders stranded, Cheung says it won’t be an issue. “The truth is, for a bus running within the district, say from Tin Shui Wai or Hung Shui Kiu to Yuen Long, it is never crowded,” he says. “The number of passengers within this district tends to be low. So we don’t expect it will make the bus too busy for long-trip passengers.”
KMB promised to introduce more so-called “section fares” and concessions when its 10-year franchise was renewed in 2017. The firm aligned fares for short-haul trips across 72 routes, created a new “multi-modal” tram concession for free tram travel at the Hong Kong Island connection to 23 routes and added 78 routes to a student concession scheme.
The latest section fare short-hop scheme, if approved, will serve bus routes 58M, 58X, 63X, 68A, 68X, 69M, 69X, 260X, 268X, 269B, 269C, 269D, 276, 276A, 276P, 960, 961 and B1.