Data will be used to incentivise elderly to change their transport behaviour, according to a government report

The government will use data from mandatory personalised $2 Scheme Octopus cards to research new “economic incentives” for elderly, including capping the number of trips or subsidy amount, according to a report into the scheme released yesterday.

“The [personalised Octopus] will enable user-based journey data to be collected to support better research and planning for the $2 Scheme in future,” says the report, saying the data can allow subsidies to be managed in a “more flexible way… e.g. to cap journey numbers or monthly subsidy under the $2 Scheme.”

The report also says personalised cards (p-cards) will also enable the city to exclude elderly visitors from the $2 scheme – although it says it would be “not inappropriate” to allow mainland elderly visitors access to the $2 fares, as “Hong Kong elderly also enjoy fare concession in some Mainland cities.” In 2018, 3.1 million elderly visitors were eligible for the scheme, against 1.43 million residents.

“Wasting public resources”

The government’s “economic incentive” idea addresses issues with elderly using bus services willy-nilly, “without regard to the possible impact on service operations.”

Such behaviour, the government says, leads to “unintended uses”, where elderly may take short rides on long bus routes “because of time and convenience”, increasing competition for seats and slowing buses down.

For example, unsubsidised passengers, travelling from mid-Levels to St John’s Cathedral in Central by franchised bus (and with no time constraints) might wait for the 40M (fare $4.80) rather than taking the Kowloon-bound 103 (fare $9.80). The elderly, on the other hand, paying a fixed $2 for either bus, have no incentive to wait longer for the cheaper bus, which, the government says, is problematic and wastes public resources.

A government survey of passengers on long-route buses found 13% of the elderly on those buses were taking short journeys, compared to 3.2% for other passengers – the report estimates this costs the government some $21-27 million per year. However, given around 20% of total bus passengers are elderly, this means around only 2-3 elderly passengers per full bus are taking up long-route seats for short-route journeys, about the same number of seats taken by those full-fare short-hoppers.

Meanwhile the report attempts to justify the government’s new requirements for p-cards announced yesterday, claiming abuse rates are far higher than official surveys reveal. The report rejects Transport Department surveys that reveal abuse rates of just 0.11% on MTR and 0.04% on green minibuses, claiming the surveys are limited “judging from the many complaints raised by other passengers and the general perception of the problem in the community.”

Using foreign crime figures as a benchmark, and claiming “a close relationship between fare evasion and theft rates”, the report instead estimates an abuse rate of around 2-2.5%, which it says is “not unrealistic”.

Transport Department has been approached for comment on the enhanced abuse figures.

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