Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(1) 1327
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/TP/1

Panel on Transport

Minutes of meeting held on Friday, 13 March 1998, at 8:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP (Chairman)
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung (Deputy Chairman)
Hon WONG Siu-yee
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP
Hon Henry WU
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen

Members absent :

Hon CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Public officers attending :

For Items III to VII

Mr Nicholas NG, JP
Secretary for Transport

Mr Kevin HO, JP
Deputy Secretary for Transport

Mrs Fanny LAW, JP
Commissioner for Transport

For items III to VI

Mr Alex FONG, JP
Deputy Secretary for Transport

For items III & IV

Mr Allan CHOW
Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport

For items III & VII

Deputy Commissioner for Transport (Acting)

For item IV

Assistant Commissioner for Transport (Acting)

For items V & VI

Miss Maureen WONG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport

For item V

Deputy Commissioner for Transport

For item VI

Assistant Commissioner for Transport (Acting)

Attendance by invitation :

For item III

Mass Transit Railway Corporation

Mr Jack SO, OBE, JP

Mr Russell BLACK
Project Director

Marketing & Planning Director

Mr Clement KWOK
Finance Director

Mr Eddie SO
Transport Planning Manager

Mrs Miranda LEUNG
Corporate Relations Manager

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Estella CHAN,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)4

Staff in attendance :

Ms Connie SZE-TO,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)1

I Confirmation of minutes and matters arising
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)1094, 1110 and 1119)

The minutes of the meeting held on 9 January 1998 were confirmed.

2 Members endorsed the draft Panel report (Paper No. CB(1)1119) for tabling at the Council meeting to be held on 1 April 1998.

3 As this was the last meeting of the Transport Panel of the Provisional Legislative Council, members agreed that items on the outstanding items list (Paper No. CB(1)1110) should be followed up by the future Transport Panel of the first Legislative Council.

II Information papers issued since last meeting

(PLC Paper No.CB(1)1070-Administration's response to a submission on reduction or abolition of embarkation fees; and

PLC Paper No.CB(1)1116-Contingency strategies for closure of land links to North Lantau and new airport after commissioning of new airport and airport railway.)

4 Members noted the two information papers issued since the last meeting.

III Progress of the Airport Railway

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)1118(01), Airport Railway Project Progress Report (quarter ended 31 December 1997))

5 The Acting Deputy Commissioner for Transport (DC/T (Atg)) updated members on the planned public transport services for the new airport and Tung Chung New Town which included the Airport Railway (AR), franchised buses, ferries and taxis. Mr Russell BLACK and Mr Eddie SO of the Mass Transit Railway Corporation (the Corporation) conducted visual presentations on the progress of the AR, and fare proposals for the Airport Express Line (AEL) and the Tung Chung Line (TCL) of the AR respectively. Members noted that construction and other preparatory works for the AR were in good progress and the Railway would be completed for operation in June 1998 as scheduled.

6 On the fare proposals, whilst members considered the proposed fare structure for the TCL acceptable, they expressed strong reservations about the fare proposals for the AEL. They considered the proposed fare options of $100, $120 and $150 for a single trip from the Hong Kong Station to Airport Station too high and enquired whether the fare could be reduced to below $100, say $80, so that it would be more affordable by air-passengers, well-wishers and greeters, as well as local people paying visits to the new airport. Some members also remarked that it would be in the public interest to set the fares at a lower level in the initial stage and review the level in the light of actual operation of the Railway.

7 Mr Jack SO stressed that in determining the AEL fare structure, the Corporation had taken into account a number of essential factors including the enhanced train service, unique purpose of travel, competition from other transport modes, passenger affordability, overall financial objectives of the AR project, and fares of comparable overseas airport railways. The overriding financial objective of the AR project was for the Corporation to ensure that the project would be financially self-sufficient and commercially viable so that there would be no cross-subsidy from the existing MTR system. The basic financial plan for the AR project included achieving an internal rate of return of 10% for the project over a 40-year operating period, the Corporation's borrowing for the AR not exceeding $11.4 billion, repaying the AR debt by 2005 and paying dividends to Government from 1997. According to prediction models developed from customer surveys conducted by the Corporation, the AEL market share would be 30% if $100 was charged for the Hong Kong to Airport journey. The market share would be increased to 33% if $80 was charged. According to relevant calculations, any fare below $100 would not achieve the financial objectives explained above. Given the high quality service of the AEL in terms of speed and reliability, and the numerous unique features, a higher fare level than other competitive modes of transport was justified. Even so, the proposed AEL fares compared favourably with those charged by similar overseas airport railways. Moreover, the results of a public acceptance test indicated that 62% of the respondents considered $100 a reasonable fare level. In response to a member's enquiry, Mr Jack SO added that the AEL would reach its 80% capacity when its market share was 30%.

8 On the suggestion of reducing the proposed fares to encourage well-wishers and greeters to use the AEL, and local people to visit the new airport, Mr Jack SO remarked that the AEL was a dedicated mode of transport mainly for air-passengers, although it also catered for well-wishers, greeters and local sightseers. Mr Rob NOBLE added that the AEL provided a premium service rather than a daily necessity and potential air passengers were people in the above-average income group, who could afford the proposed fares.

9 As regards concessionary fares, members opined that preferential fares corresponding to those available on the existing MTR system should be offered to students and senior citizens. On the fare for same-day return journeys, members were of the view that a discount higher than the proposed 50% should be provided to encourage the more price-sensitive well-wishers and greeters to use the AEL. A member opined that same-day return journeys should be free. Another member urged the MTRC to consider offering a 70% discount for return trips.

10 In response, Mr NOBLE said that it would be in line with international practice for airport railways to allow free travel for infants and half fares for children using the AEL, and charge full fares for students and senior citizens. The range of discount for same-day return journeys of 20% to 50% being considered was already quite substantial. Studies revealed that the additional ridership attracted by the same-day return discount would not cover the revenue loss resulted from the discount. If more concessionary fares were offered to particular groups of passengers and a bigger discount was provided for same-day return journeys, additional revenue would be required by raising the overall fares or reducing concessions and discounts for other groups of passengers in order for the AEL to achieve the financial objective of self-sufficiency.

11 In reply to enquiries about the public acceptance test mentioned by Mr Jack SO, Mr Eddie SO advised that it was a survey conducted at Central MTR Station aimed at testing the public acceptability of different levels of AEL fares. A total of 500 respondents selected by random sampling were interviewed. They were split into three different groups and each group was asked to give an opinion on one particular fare level of $100, $120 or $150.

12 Members doubted the reliability of the surveys on the AEL market shares and the public acceptability of different levels of fares, and requested the Corporation to provide further information on the two surveys, such as their detailed results and questions put forward to respondents. They also requested the Corporation to release details of the financial projections of the AR project on the basis of various fare proposals.

13 In response, Mr Jack SO undertook to provide further details on the two surveys. As regards the financial projections of the AR project, he explained that the details were available in the annual reports of the Corporation submitted to the Government. He agreed to provide the requested information in a summarised format. MTRC

(Post-meeting note: Supplementary information provided by the MTRC has been circulated to members vide PLC Paper No. CB(1)1282.)

14 On the proposed fee for In-Town Check-In (ITCI) facilities, Mr Jack SO said that a separate ITCI fee would be consistent with the user-pays principle. He also noted some members' view that the ITCI service should be free for AEL passengers.

15 Addressing a member's concern about the adequacy of luggage racks inside the AEL train, particularly for arriving passengers, Mr NOBLE said that observations made at the Kai Tak Airport revealed that many arriving passengers only carried a small amount of luggage. The Corporation was confident that the specially designed baggage racks installed in the AEL train would be adequate and there would also be ample room under passenger seats for placing smaller sized luggage.

IV Compatibility of existing autotoll systems

(PLC Paper No. CB(1)1118(02))

16 The Acting Assistant Commissioner for Transport (AC/T (Atg)) briefed members on the proposed scheme to resolve the problem of incompatibility of the existing autotoll systems of Autopass and Electronic Toll System (ETS). Under the proposal, a new joint venture company would be set up to merge the two systems. All ETS systems currently in operation would be replaced with Autopass systems, which would also be installed at the Lantau Link and Tai Lam Tunnel. The total capital cost involved was estimated to be $31 million and installation works would take about nine months to complete. He also informed members that the autotoll companies had planned to increase the monthly subscription fee for Autopass from $30 to $35 and that for ETS from $20 to $25 with effect from 1 April 1998.

17 Members supported the proposed scheme in general as it would resolve the incompatibility problem. However, a member expressed reservations about the proposed increase in monthly subscription fees and opined that the autotoll companies should consider reducing the fees so as to attract more motorists to use the autotoll systems. Another member was concerned about the possibility of creating a monopolistic situation and enquired about the details of the new joint venture company and the mechanism to regulate fee increases in future.

18 In reply, the Commissioner for Transport (C for T) stressed that the best means to protect the interest of motorists was to offer them the choices of both manual toll and autotoll. It was anticipated that the proposed merging of the two autotoll systems would attract more users. AC/T (Atg) supplemented that currently there were 110,000 autotoll users which represented about 18% of the total number of tunnel users. The Administration would continue to monitor the usage of autotoll systems and review the number of manual toll and autotoll lanes at tunnels whenever necessary.

19 As regards the details of the new company, C for T said that the Administration did not have full details of the new joint venture which was a commercial deal. There would be no financial implications for the Government as the capital cost for the conversion and installation works would be borne by the new joint venture company. For existing autotoll users, they would enjoy an extension of the autotoll service or a reduction in fee upon merging of the two systems. On the proposed increase in monthly subscription fees, she advised that it was irrespective of the present proposal. The new venture company had undertaken to maintain the fee at this level for at least six months after full conversion of ETS to Autopass. Including the nine months required to complete the installation works, the fee would therefore remain at $35 for another 15 months until mid-1999. Thereafter, any fee adjustment would be based on prudent commercial principle. Whatever the fee level would be, motorists would still have the manual toll option. AC/T (Atg) added that the monthly autotoll subscription fee revision was to meet increases in operating costs. Previous fee increases for Autopass and ETS took place in January 1997 and September 1996 respectively.

V Position report on the feasibility study on Electronic Road Pricing
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)1109(01) and 1129(01))

20 On the two identified technology options for investigation of implementing Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system in Hong Kong, namely the Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) system and the Vehicle Positioning System (VPS), a member noted that while the technology of the DSRC system was relatively mature, the lack of space in Hong Kong to provide massive gantries for installation of overhead equipment at each charging point and the concern about the effectiveness of communication between In-Vehicle Units and roadside readers under the local multi-lane traffic situation might render this option unsuitable for Hong Kong. He urged the Administration to reference technologies adopted overseas. Another member enquired about the Canadian experience of using DSRC system in Highway 407 as he learnt that there were problems during the initial stage of application.

21 In response, the Deputy Commissioner for Transport (DC/T) said that the Administration recognized that there were advantages and disadvantages associated with DSRC and VPS. While the DSRC system was more mature, it would be physically very difficult and costly to provide the system in the urban built-up areas of Hong Kong. On the other hand, although no gantries would be required in the VPS, except for enforcement at strategic locations the system was recent and had not been fully tested for ERP application. Hence, it was prudent to conduct field evaluations for both technology options to assess their reliability and feasibility for application in Hong Kong.

22 As regards overseas experience in ERP systems, DC/T advised that the Administration and the consultant had studied a number of overseas systems, including those in European, North American and South East Asian countries. Highway 407 in Canada was the first in the world to use the DSRC technology for toll collection under a multi lane free flow situation. The Singapore ERP system to be commissioned in April 1998 would also use DSRC. The DSRC system to be tested in the field evaluation would be compatible with standard developed in European countries.

23 Responding to the concern about the possibility of high ERP charges, DC/T explained that the paper only illustrated individuals' likely response to a hypothetical ERP system involving a charge of $20 to cross each of the four assumed screenlines, based on a stated preference survey conducted in the initial stage of the study. Different charging strategies involving combinations of varying parameters, such as types of vehicles to be charged, levels and bases of charging, roads and districts to be covered etc., would need to be formulated and examined against the needs of the transport system and land use plan. The Administration planned to arrive at some initial strategy concepts by the end of 1998. However, the charging proposals had yet to be decided.

24 As regards the Chairman's concern about the impact of ERP system on residents of densely populated urban areas, such as those covered in the field evaluation of ERP technology options, C for T explained that Wan Chai and Causeway Bay were selected for on-street tests of the DSRC system because existing flyovers and footbridges could be used to mount the roadside equipment. In order to test the performance of the VPS under various geographical and physical conditions, most urban areas would be included as testing zones. She stressed that a number of factors including the area itself, the congestion level, distance, time etc. would be thoroughly considered in devising the ERP charging mechanism.

25 A member considered that "park-and-ride" schemes might, to a certain extent, help in alleviating traffic congestion. He urged the Administration to conduct more studies in this respect as an alternative to ERP.

VI Improvement to directional signs on expressways and road markings for restricted zones
(PLC Paper Nos. CB(1)1109(02) and 1118(03))

Directional signs on expressways

26 In reply to the concern about maintenance of directional signs, the Acting Assistant Commissioner for Transport (AC/T (Atg)) advised that apart from carrying out territory wide annual sign inspections to examine damage and obstructions to all the signs with a view to taking necessary remedial actions, departments concerned would also respond to reports on deficiencies as and when received. Besides, weekly routine safety inspections from slow moving vehicles and six monthly detailed inspections on foot were carried out to identify any obstruction to signs. Obstruction cases would be referred to the municipal services departments for appropriate actions. As regards co-ordination among various responsible departments, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport advised that relevant departments included Highways Department (HyD), Transport Department (TD), Lands Department and the municipal services departments, which co-operated with each other in carrying out maintenance work for directional signs. The proposed working group mentioned in para. 6 of Annex A to the paper, to be co-ordinated by the HyD, aimed at formalising existing arrangements and streamlining procedures for removing obstructions, particularly those involving objects within private lots. The Administration would report on the progress of the working group as and when necessary.

27 On the concern about visibility of signs during bad weather, AC/T (Atg) responded that improving the illumination on signs would be an effective solution to the problem. The HyD was drawing up clear specifications on sign illumination complying with international standards. The specifications would be applied to new signs and a programme would be set up to review the lighting level of existing signs.

Road markings for restricted zones

28 As regards improvement to road markings for restricted zones, while expressing support for the proposal to lay groups of transverse yellow bar marks on kerbs to indicate the different hours of restriction, a member suggested extending the trial to bus only lanes. Another member was of the view that in addition to colouring of kerbs, sign posts carrying restricted zone signs should be painted in different colours to assist drivers in differentiating the starting and ending of a restricted zone.

29 In response, AC/T (Atg) advised that the priority was to improve restricted zone road markings for private vehicles. The Administration would consider introducing improvements for public buses at a later stage. He added that appropriate road markings were laid at the edge of the carriageway to indicate the starting and ending of a restricted zone. Nevertheless, the Administration would consider the member's suggestion of colouring the restricted zone sign posts for this purpose taking into account the cost implication as frequent maintenance of the posts would be required. TD

VII Any other business

Recent bus accidents

30 Members expressed grave concern about the recent high frequency of bus accidents. Noting that speeding could be a major cause of the accidents, a member opined that the tight work schedules might have forced drivers to speed. Another member suggested setting the maximum speed limits for buses at 50 km per hour and 70 km per hour in urban areas and the New Territories respectively. Members concurred that besides stepping up law enforcement on speeding, bus companies should be urged to improve maintenance of their bus fleets by recruiting professionals and technicians with higher qualifications, and to provide more training to enhance drivers' awareness of road safety.

31 Addressing members' concerns, the DC/T (Atg) stressed that notwithstanding the recent spate of bus accidents, the rate of traffic accidents involving buses had decreased over the past nine months. He then briefed members on the following measures planned or already taken by the Administration and bus companies with a view to resolving the problem -

  1. A special taskforce was set up by the Administration in January 1998 to review the performance of Citybus including, inter alia, its staffing situation, drivers' schedules and training programmes, as well as its maintenance system. An internal report would be available by mid-April 1998 and the review would be extended to other franchised bus companies afterwards;

  2. to promote road safety, TD had been conducting continual improvements to traffic blackspots, road bends and steep roads, and reviews on speed limits. In a recent inspection of flyovers, about 150 flyovers having similar configurations to the Tonnochy Road flyover in Wan Chai, had been identified. Although none of the flyovers were traffic blackspots, TD would introduce a new traffic sign to enhance drivers' awareness of sharp road bends. It was estimated that about 300 such new signs would be installed. Where necessary the height of the parapet on flyovers might be increased from one metre to one and a half metres to provide more protection for vehicles;

  3. the Police would strengthen the monitoring of bus speeds and 18 speed-enforcement cameras would be installed throught out the territory to check on speeding buses and other vehicles. The installation of tachographs on buses would be enhanced to monitor, inter alia, their speed;

  4. TD was maintaining close liaison with the management of bus companies. It was recognized that there was room for improvement in various aspects including training programmes and counselling services for drivers, drivers' work schedules, maintenance practices etc. Bus companies were required to review drivers' work schedules regularly and submit monthly reports to TD; and

  5. regarding publicity and educational programmes on road safety, the 1998-99 Road Safety Campaign would focus on enhancing motorists' awareness of safe driving. Road safety seminars would continue to be provided to bus drivers by bus companies with input from TD and the Police. The Administration was also considering the inclusion of road safety as a topic in the school curriculum.

Vote of thanks

32 As this was the last regular meeting of the Transport Panel of the Provisional Legislative Council, the Chairman thanked members for their support and the Administration for its co-operation during the session. The Secretary for Transport, on behalf of the Administration, thanked members for their valuable advice on transport matters.

33 The meeting ended at 11:00 am.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
28 May 1998