LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 633/96-97
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/TP/1

LegCo Panel on Transport

Minutes of meeting held on
Friday, 29 November 1996, at 8:30 am
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, OBE, JP (Chairman)
    Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip
    Hon LEE Wing-tat
    Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong
    Hon CHAN Kam-lam
    Hon CHAN Wing-chan
    Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
    Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
    Hon LEE Kai-ming
    Hon SIN Chung-kai
    Hon TSANG Kin-shing

Members absent :

    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP
    Hon Edward S T HO, OBE, JP
    Dr Hon Samuel WONG Ping-wai, MBE, FEng, JP
    Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
    Hon LAU Chin-shek
    Hon NGAN Kam-chuen
    Hon Lawrence YUM Sin-ling

Public officers attending :

For Item IV

Transport Branch
Mr Gordon SIU, JP
Secretary for Transport
Deputy Secretary for Transport (Transport Infrastructure)
Miss Nancy LAW, JP
Deputy Secretary for Transport (Transport Management)
Mr Isaac CHOW
Deputy Secretary for Transport (Transport Services)
Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport
(Transport Services)

Transport Department
Mrs Lily YAM, JP
Commissioner for Transport
Mr Alan LUI, JP
Assistant Commissioner for Transport (New Territories)

Item V

Transport Branch
Mr Gordon SIU, JP
Secretary for Transport
Deputy Secretary for Transport (Transport Infrastructure)
Miss Nancy LAW
Deputy Secretary for Transport (Transport Management)

Transport Department
Mrs Lily YAM, JP
Commissioner for Transport
Assistant Commissioner for Transport
(Technical Services & Planning)
Mr CHO Ping-chung
Chief Engineer (Highway Surveillance & System)

Item VI

Transport Branch
Mr Gordon SIU, JP
Secretary for Transport
Deputy Secretary for Transport (Transport Infrastructure)
Miss Nancy LAW, JP
Deputy Secretary for Transport (Transport Management)
Mr Isaac CHOW
Deputy Secretary for Transport (Transport Services)
Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport
(Transport Services)

Economic Services Branch
Principal Assistant Secretary for Economic Services

Transport Department
Mrs Lily YAM, JP
Commissioner for Transport
Mr Daniel AU
Assistant Commissioner for Transport (Bus Development)

Item VII

Transport Branch
Mr Gordon SIU, JP
, Secretary for Transport
Deputy Secretary for Transport (Transport Infrastructure)
Miss Nancy LAW, JP
Deputy Secretary for Transport (Transport Management)
Mr Johnny CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport
(Transport Infrastructure)

Works Branch
Mr Peter Berry
Principal Assistant Secretary for Works
(Contracts & Cost Control)

Transport Department
Senior Engineer

Highways Department
Director of Highways
Mr Alan KAM
Assistant Director of Highways (Major Works)
Chief Engineer (Major Works)

Legal Department
Mr Ken Somerville
Deputy Principal Crown Counsel, Civil Litigation Unit

Attendance by Invitation :

For Item IV

Mass Transit Railway Corporation
Mr Rob Noble
Marketing & Planning Director
Mr Eddie SO
Transport Planning Manager
Ms Maggie SO
External Affairs Manager

Item VI

Hong Kong Tramways Ltd
Mr Frankie YICK
General Manager
Administration Manager
Mr Taurus LEUNG
Business Manager

Clerk in attendance:

    Mrs Vivian KAM

Staff in attendance:

Miss Connie FUNG
Assistant Legal Adviser 3
Mr Matthew LOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4 (Acting)

I Confirmation of minutes of previous meetings

(Papers No. CB(1) 253, 366, 367 & 385/96-97 ¾ Minutes of meetings on 13 June, 25 September, 9 October and 23 October 1996)

The minutes of the meetings held on 13 June 1996, 25 September 1996, 9 October 1996 and 23 October 1996 were confirmed.

II Date of next meeting and items for discussion

(List of outstanding items for discussion)

2. The Chairman drew members’ attention to the list of outstanding items for discussion in the coming months. She reminded members that the next meeting on 6 December 1996 would be held in the Chamber of the LegCo Building as deputations would be invited to the meeting for the item on Taxi tolls for the Western Harbour Crossing.

III Information papers issued since last meeting

(Paper No. CB(1) 340/96-97 ¾ Information paper provided by the Administration on "Solo Driving Lessons within the Premises of Driving Schools")

(Paper No. CB(1) 351/96-97 ¾ Submissions from the Motor Transport Workers General Union and the Private Hire Car for Young Children Association Ltd on "Safety Provisions of School Transport")

3. Members noted that an information paper on the subject of "Solo driving within the premises of driving schools" and a joint submission from the Motor Transport Workers General Union and the Private Hire Car for Young Children Association Ltd on the safety of school transport had been circulated vide LegCo Papers No. CB(1) 340 and 351/96-97 respectively.

4. On the subject of solo driving, members expressed concern on the effect which the proposal would have on the number of instructors in the driving schools and on the business of non-driving school instructors. They were also interested in the findings of a recent review conducted by the Administration on the re-issue of driving instructors’ licences, and a report produced by the Consumer Council related to the subject. The Chairman advised that the Administration would be requested to prepare an information paper for discussion at a subsequent meeting.

5. On the subject of "Safety of school transport", the two deputations were concerned with the mandatory requirements for escorts and the colour scheme for nanny vans. In response to the Chairman, the Commissioner for Transport (C for T) advised that school transport operators had been widely consulted on the issue and their views had been fully noted by the Administration before the recommendations were drawn up. She stressed the need to strike a balance between operators’ interests and safety considerations. To address the concern of the trade and in order to provide for a period of adaptation, the Administration would put in place flexible transitional arrangements following introduction of the new arrangements on 1 February 1997. The Secretary for Transport (S for T) also highlighted the need for escorts for school buses, adding that the problem would be with escorts falling sick but that logistical arrangements and contingency escorts services by parents were being considered by the Administration. As regards the colour scheme, C for T clarified that the proposed colour scheme of yellow body with purple strip was aimed at alerting other drivers to the presence of school children on board. It was based on experience overseas. She said that the Administration had met with the operators and agreed that all existing nanny vans would be exempted from this proposed colour scheme. Only new vehicles would have to adopt the new colour scheme. However, operators were free to follow this colour scheme when their vehicles were repainted. Members basically agreed that there should be mandatory provision of escorts on school buses and nanny vans with more than 16 seats for primary and kindergarten students. They were however concerned with the transitional arrangements referred to by the Administration.

6. Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong suggested the installation of visual monitors for drivers as this would be both effective and economical in monitoring the activities of students inside the vehicles. C for T was however concerned about safety as the visual monitors would divert drivers’ attention. Hon CHAN Kam-lam further suggested that the use of safety belts for students should also be considered. In view of members’ concerns, the Chairman concluded that this issue should be discussed in a future meeting and that the minutes of meeting of the Education Panel held on 15 November 1996 should be circulated for members’ reference.

IV Mass Transit Railway fares for the Tsuen Wan Line and new bus routes for Tsuen Wan and Kwai Chung districts

(Paper No. CB(1) 386/96-97(01) ¾ Outline of the case)

(Paper No. CB(1) 386/96-97(02) ¾ Information paper provided by the Administration)

(Paper No. CB(1) 386/96-97(03) ¾ Information paper provided by the Mass Transit Railway Corporation)

7. At the Chairman’s invitation, Mr Eddie SO briefed the Panel on the basis for determining fares for the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Tsuen Wan Line. In essence, the fare structure of the MTR system was mainly distance-related while other considerations such as value for money and passenger convenience would also be taken into account. This approach had been adopted consistently in determining the fare structures of the three MTR lines. Mr SO explained that a lower fare was charged for the Kwun Tong Line to make up for the inconvenience caused by the circuitous route of this Line. As regards the fares for travelling between Shek Kip Mei to Kwun Tong and Shek Kip Mei to Tsuen Wan, Mr SO confirmed that passengers were charged $7 for both sections. Regarding concerns on the fairness of the MTR fares, S for T said the MTRC would provide supplementary information showing the differences in fares for the three MTR lines to facilitate members’ understanding of the fare structure.

8. Hon SIN Chung-kai remarked that the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTRC) should consider lowering the fares for the Tsuen Wan Line following the opening of the Airport Railway which had a route linking Lai King and Tsim Sha Tsui. Hon TSANG Kin-shing also urged the Administration to review the MTR fare structure with particular regard to the cross harbour routes since the higher fares charged for compensating construction costs of the tunnels were no longer applicable as the costs would have been recovered already; he suggested that the distance should form the basis of the fare structure. Hon CHAN Kam-lam on the other hand considered it reasonable for lower fares to be charged for the Kwun Tong Line to compensate for the inconvenience caused by the need to change at the Mong Kok Station for Hong Kong bound passengers.

9. The Chairman concluded that the Administration should keep in view the fairness of the MTR fare structure; she also remarked that the bus services for the district as set out in the information paper had been noted by the Panel.

V Traffic Surveillance Information System - Tuen Mun Road

(Paper No. CB(1) 386/96-97(04) ¾ Extract from minutes of the Public Works Subcommittee meeting held on 10 July 1996)

(Paper No. CB(1) 386/96-97(05) ¾ Information paper provided by the Administration)

10. At the Chairman’s invitation, the Assistant Commissioner for Transport (Technical Services & Planning) (AC for T (TS&P))briefed the Panel on the proposed traffic surveillance information system (TSIS) on Tuen Mun Road. Subsequent to the rejection of the Administration’s proposal on the system at the Public Works Sub-committee (PWSC) meeting on 10 July 1996, the Administration had reviewed the scope of the project and had proposed three options for consideration by the Panel:

  1. to proceed with the TSIS project as submitted to PWSC in July 1996;
  2. to wait for the outcome of a study on the introduction, operation and management of TSIS facilities on trunk roads and expressways. In the meantime, monitoring of traffic conditions would continue to be carried out through the system of closed circuit television cameras and Congestion Indicator (CI) signs already provided at the major approaches to Tuen Mun Road; or
  3. to proceed with a modified scheme comprising four variable message signs (VMS) in Yuen Long, two VMS in Tuen Mun, two VMS in Tsuen Wan; and to minimize project cost by deleting the VMS and the automatic incident detection system proposed for Tuen Mun Road and the VMS in Castle Peak Road. Under this arrangement, motorists in Yuen Long, Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan would still receive early notification of incidents on Tuen Mun Road and advice on alternative diversionary routes. The cost of the project would be reduced to around $90 million in money of the day prices and the works could be completed in a relatively shorter period of 14 months.

AC for T (TS&P) supplemented that the existing CI signs had been operated by the Police for 10 times in 1995 and seven times in 1996 to date.

11. Members were not convinced that it would be a cost-effective system for addressing the traffic congestion problem along Tuen Mun Road, at least not until after the opening of the Route 3 and the Airport Railway which would change the traffic flow. They suggested that in the meantime, more Police officers should be deployed for traffic management in the area particularly during traffic accidents. Hon Alert CHAN Wai-yip remarked that the Director of Audit should examine whether the existing CI signs was under-utilized; he also called for better co-ordination between the Police and the Transport Department when arranging for contingency traffic measures in the event of accidents. With regard to the consultancy study referred to in the second option, Hon CHAN Kam-lam suggested that systems overseas such as those in Japan should also be studied while Hon TSANG Kin-shing was of the view that the study should be withheld pending completion of such major infrastructural projects as the Western Harbour Crossing, Route 3 and Airport Railway. The study should commence about six months following the opening of these new access when the traffic flow had become stable.

12. In response, C for T advised that the Administration was considering commissioning a comprehensive study of the introduction, operation and management of TSIS facilities in Hong Kong as mentioned under option (b) above. The study, which was still at the planning stage, would commence in early 1997 and extend into 1998. It would cover various aspects of the management and operation of information systems and systems adopted overseas, such as those suggested by Hon CHAN Kam-lam. S for T added that the first part of the study would be in the form of a literature review and contacts with relevant overseas authorities. This part would take around 12 to 18 months to complete. He assured members that the consultants’ study would only commence after completion of the major transport projects quoted above including the Ting Kau Bridge.

VI Fare Increase Application of the Hong Kong Tramways Ltd

(Paper No. CB(1) 386/96-97(06) ¾ Information paper provided by the Administration)

13. In response to the Chairman, the Assistant Commissioner for Transport (Bus Development) (AC for T (BD)) advised that following a thorough assessment of financial data supplied by the Hong Kong Tramways Ltd (HKT) and its expenditures in connection with a series of improvement works such as the upgrading of tram cars and improved training for staff, the Transport Advisory Committee had recommended a fare increase of 40 cents for adults, 20 cents for children and the elderly with effect from January 1997. The rate of increase was around 33% but the actual increase in monetary terms was small. Mr Frankie YICK also briefed the Panel on the background of the issue by referring to presentation materials tabled at the meeting. HKT had applied for an increase in tram fares by 60 cents for adults, 30 cents for children and $50 for monthly tickets to take effect from January 1997. The increase was needed to cover the escalating operating costs, expenses relating to improvement works and the static patronage estimated for the coming years. In addition, there would be an increase of 50 Motormen and 10 Technicians following the introduction of meal relief arrangements for motormen and other safety measures recommended in the consultants’ study on tram safety. Although the projected profit would be very low based on the fare level recommended by TAC, HKT would accept such fare scales having regard to the current economic situation. Mr YICK emphasized that tram fares even after the adjustment would still be the most economic mode of public transport in Hong Kong, and added that there might still be a need for another fare revision in 1998.

(Post-meeting note: The presentation material tabled by HKT was circulated to members vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 439/96-97 after the meeting.)

14. Some members suggested fixing the fare for adults at $1.5 to avoid inconvenience caused by small changes. Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung on behalf of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong said that this was the level supported by the public as indicated in a survey conducted by the Alliance. He also noted that the operating costs of HKT was around $170 million in 1996 and the average annual net profits from 1991 to 1995 was $21 million, and that this represented a gross profits of around 12%. He suggested that the level of increase should have regard to the total investment of HKT vis-a-vis its profits. In reply, both the Deputy Secretary for Transport (Transport Services) (DS(TS)) and Mr YICK confirmed that a rate of $1.5 had been considered but the Company would not be able to cope financially with such a proposed rate of increase. Mr YICK added that it would also create problems for fares for children and elderly who were required to pay half fare. Even where passengers who did not have enough small changes were to pay more, the excess amount might not be enough to cover those passengers who paid less for the same reason. Mr YICK added that it was quite common for passengers to leave the tram at the rear entrance and did not pay any fares at all. Unless HKT were authorized to issue penalty tickets, such cases would have to be reported to the Police and this would be a timely process. As regards the investment of HKT, Mr YICK said that HKT would estimate the company’s profits by the return on turnover which would be more appropriate for companies such as HKT and ferry operators which incurred significant expenditure on depreciation. He nevertheless undertook to provide the Panel with figures on the total investment of HKT.

15. Hon TSANG Kin-shing enquired about details of the new meal-relief arrangement for Motormen, and questioned if the existing arrangements had any bearings on tram accidents. He also sought clarification on whether the salaries of staff of the Star Ferry Co Ltd were paid for by HKT as reported in the press. Mr YICK explained that Motormen would be entitled to a 45 minutes meal-break with pay as from early 1997. It was however not possible to extend this to one hour since lunch hours of 30 to 45 minutes was quite common for employees of servicing industries for operational reasons. As regards tram accidents, only three of the recent series of accidents resulted from over-speeding by Motormen; these had no correlation whatsoever with the existing meal-relief arrangements. He refuted the claim of staff of other organizations being paid for by HKT and emphasized the existing practices for accounts of HKT being examined by auditors.

16. Hon TSANG Kin-shing suggested an improvement to the design of tram cars by removing the tripod-gate and interchanging the positions of the entrance and exit of the trams. Mr YICK confirmed that HKT was considering a redesign of the tripod gates. On the latter proposal, Mr YICK explained that tram operation was different from other modes of transport as the trams would accumulate on rails. If passengers paid before boarding, a question of responsibility would arise if they were not taken to their destinations in case of traffic accidents. Furthermore, the different width of the front and rear staircases would pose technical problems. Mr YICK advised that the re-build cycle for tram cars was 14 years, and the internal facilities of the tram cars had been renovated only about seven years ago. Introduction of the member’s suggestion would mean an advancement of the scheduled re-build work and would involve significant additional investment. Nevertheless, he agreed to consider the member’s suggestion and incorporate these in renovation plans where appropriate.

17. Hon CHAN Wing-chan expressed concern about the salary increase for HKT staff, whether HKT had consulted staff unions on the creation of the new rank of Senior Motorman and if there were differences between the salaries of new and experienced Motormen. In response, Mr YICK advised that HKT was still considering the salary revision for the coming year although this might be above the rate of inflation. HKT had been endeavouring to improve communication with employees and had arranged regular meetings since two years back. The Motormen staff union had been consulted on the creation of the senior rank and the salary scale. While the salary scale for all Motormen was currently the same, HKT would review its appropriateness in the coming year.

18. In response to members on LegCo’s ambit in the fare revision process, the Assistant Legal Adviser said that HKT could change the rates of fares subject to the consent of the Governor in Council. Any such alterations would come into force one month after the publication in the Gazette or within such shorter periods after the publication as the Governor in Council might order; LegCo could only amend the notice period if it was shorter than one month but it could not lawfully amend the notice in a manner which departed from the rates awarded.

VII Tuen Mun Road widening work mediation case

(Paper No. CB(1) 386/96-97(07) ¾ Extract from the minutes of meeting held on 23 October 1996)

(Paper No. CB(1) 386/96-97(08) ¾ Information paper provided by the Administration)

19. The Chairman drew members’ attention to the concern of the Crown Solicitor who wrote after the meeting on 23 October 1996 to advise that since legal proceedings were still pending on this case, Government officials should not be asked at the meetings whether the Government was negligent or in dereliction of duty or whether it had undertaken sufficient risk assessment before letting the contract as he considered that this might pre-empt the findings of a Coroner’s Inquest.

20. In response to the Chairman, the Deputy Principal Crown Counsel, Civil Litigation Unit (DPCC) advised that the issue was still sub judice. A Coroner’s Inquest was scheduled early next year when a judicial investigation would be conducted into the rockfall incident with particular emphasis on the safety considerations and how the contract was designed and the works carried out. Matters including safety issues, risk assessment, dereliction of duty, negligence, and persons responsible for the works might be the subject of the judicial investigation and pending legal proceedings. As regards members’ request for the Mediator’s Decision, DPCC advised that the contractor had not agreed to disclosure of the Decision pending completion of the inquest proceedings.

21. Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip said that he could not agree entirely with DPCC since issues such as the Kwun Lung Lau incident were discussed by members at the time of proceedings. He was also dissatisfied with the non-availability of the Mediator’s Decision, as this would deprive LegCo of the opportunity of being fully briefed on the incident and having regard to the fact that significant amount of public money would be incurred if Government lost in the claim. He remarked that LegCo could consider invoking the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance to order production of the Mediator’s Decision, and asked the Government to refuse to negotiate the claim before disclosure of the Decision. Commenting on the point on disclosure of information, DPCC said that the Coroner’s Inquest would be a public enquiry and all issues would be discussed in open court. There was a substantial overlap between issues involved in the Mediator’s Decision and issues which would be considered at the inquest. He added that a number of outstanding financial claims would need to be resolved and that members had been advised at the last meeting that Government had decided not to pursue further arbitration in the matter. DPCC stressed that the Decision would be evidence at the forthcoming inquest and that it could not be released prior to completion of the inquest proceedings.

22. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Works (Contracts & Cost Control) (PAS for Works) also pointed out that as a matter of policy, the contractor had the contractual right to permit early release or otherwise of the said document. In any event, the issue including the Mediator’s Decision would come public in January 1997 although the case would nowhere be settled by then. He would not in any event give policy support to Hon Albert CHAN’s requirement to withhold money that was by right due to the contractor. The Director of Highways (D of HyD) advised that the inquest was re-scheduled for March 1997 instead of January 1997. In response to the Chairman on whether the Administration could guarantee that the Government would not make any compensation before release of the said document, D of HyD said that as many issues were involved in the claim, proceedings would unlikely be completed before March 1997 and, for the avoidance of doubt, claims other than those associated with the impossibility issue would be dealt with in the normal manner. He also affirmed that in accordance with the conditions of the mediation, the agreement of both parties would be required for release of the said document. The Chairman requested that if the Administration were to make a decision on the claim before release of the said document, it must first explain its position to the Panel. S for T undertook to consider this request.

23. Hon Albert HO Chun-yan declared interest as representing the family of the dead in the rockfall incident. He advised that the inquest had been deferred from September 1996 to March 1997 and sought clarifications from the Administration on the reasons. He also disagreed that the Panel should refrain from discussing the case as advised by DPCC since the Coroner had independent judgements and was not subject to pressure from any parties. On the first point, the Assistant Director of Highways (Major Works) (AD of HyD) advised that re-scheduling of the inquest was made at the Coroner’s notice and not as a result of the Administration’s request. On the second point, DPCC said that under the legal system and where matters were the subject of judicial investigations, it was the practice to allow the court to assess the evidence objectively and come to a recommendation before going into public debate. As the matter was still sub judice, these concerns had been expressed by the contractor. He assured that there would be no difficulties in reporting on the details at a later date.

24. Hon Albert HO Chun-yan was not convinced of the reasons stated. He asked if there were any reasons for the Attorney General’s Chambers to be concerned that the court could not have an independent assessment of the evidence when the case was being discussed in LegCo. He suggested that DPCC could look into the rules of sub judice to assess their applicability on this issue. In his view, there were only two situations where such rules would apply. Firstly, that the public discussion would disclose materials that would likely affect the investigation into the matter or the finding of evidence by a jury. Secondly, that there would be no likelihood of any public pressure being brought to bear on the judge or the jury. Neither rules were in his view applicable in this case and it was unlikely that the judge being a professional would be prejudiced. DPCC replied that at present it was not known whether the Coroner would sit alone or with a jury on this matter. He further stated that the Honourable Member had omitted to mention the legal rights of the interested parties at the forthcoming Inquest proceedings.

25. The Chairman recalled that LegCo Members did discuss on two previous occasions issues on which proceedings were pending, although this was done with care and with the Legal Adviser’s presence. The Chairman requested, DPCC was requested to provide an information paper for consideration at the meeting on 13 December 1996 to address the member’s concern as set out above. Members requested that the Legal Adviser should be invited to the meeting on 13 December 1996 when this item was to be discussed.

26. Hon LEE Wing-tat noted that the information paper circulated for the current meeting had not made reference to works at the remaining section in Tai Lam, and enquired about the progress. In response, AD of HyD said that if all four lanes were open, traffic volume would be increased by 15%. However, if Tai Lam Section was not widened, traffic volume would only be increased by about 10%. The Administration recognized the need to expedite action on the section concerned and was embarking on a feasibility study on how to take the project forward; the study was due for completion in April 1997. Hon TSANG Kin-shing requested the Director of Highways to provide an information paper for the meeting on 13 December 1996 on the scope of the claim, clauses in the contract relating to the aspect of safety measures, comparisons with other contracts such as those drawn up by the Housing Department on works of a similar nature, and the schedule for completion of the remaining works at the Tai Lam section.

VIII Any other business

27. There being no other business, the meeting closed at 10:45 am.

Legislative Council Secretariat
6 January 1997

Last Updated on 22 August 1998