Almost a million passengers using anonymous Octopus cards will need to register for a photo ID Octopus by 2024 under the government’s $2 elderly fare concession scheme, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong revealed in LegCo yesterday, claiming abuse of the scheme meant the government needed to tighten rules.
60-64 year olds will require photo ID Octopus from 2022, and all elderly by 2024, if they wish to enjoy the elderly fare concession scheme, said Law, revealing the arrangement was the brainchild of government consultant Asia Consulting Group.
Law said, without offering evidence, that abuse of the senior 65+ Octopus concession put a “strain” on the government’s finances and that loopholes needed to be closed ahead of the lowering of the age limit to 60 from 2022.
“The main source of abuse lies with the anonymous Octopus cards,” said Law. “If we lower the age limit from 65 to 60 the concern is even greater, because they don’t look very different, so the burden created on the those responsible for monitoring would be even heavier. If we don’t tackle the issue of personalised Octopus cards, then it would be hard to find a way back,” he said.
But according to a Transport Department investigation, there were only an average of 112 cases of abuse uncovered annually between 2017-2019 out of almost half a billion $2 trips taken every year: that’s 0.00001% of trips, costing the government an estimated HK$13,000 per year.
Currently, over 900,000 elderly use anonymous Octopus Cards to enjoy the $2 fare concession on public transport, with around 400,000 using personalised photo ID Octopus. The government says the scheme costs around HK$1.3 billion per year, but anticipates, with a rising elderly population, it could cost as much as HK$7 billion by 2025.
Secretary Law had previously announced a delay to the scheme back in November, blaming the government’s “overall fiscal position and the need to tackle the problem of abuse”.
Lawmakers yesterday slammed the government’s recommendations and its tardiness in expanding the scheme. Wilson Or Chong-shing asked Law why, if abuse was allegedly so rampant, the government hadn’t flushed it out before. “In fact, Hong Kong people are law abiding, I am sure they won’t take their chances,” he said.
Vincent Cheng Wing-shun said the government was taking too long to lower the concession age. “It is two years since the policy was first announced. Those in the 60-64 age group fail to understand why it will take so long. It’s hard to accept.”