LC Paper No. CB(1) 157/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/PL/TP

Panel on Transport

Minutes of meeting held on
Friday, 31 July 1998, at 10:45 am
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP (Chairman)
Hon LAU Kong-wah (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon LAU Chin-shek, JP

Members absent :

Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Public officers attending :

For items IV & V

Mr Nicholas NG Wing-fui
Secretary for Transport

Mrs Fanny LAW
Commissioner for Transport

Mrs Dorothy CHAN
Deputy Commissioner for Transport

For item IV

Miss Eliza LEE
Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport

Mr Alan LUI
Assistant Commissioner for Transport

For item V

Mr Allan CHOW
Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport

Mr Ernest LEE
Assistant Commissioner for Transport

Attendance by invitation:

For item IV

New World First Bus Services Limited

Mr Adolf HSU
Managing Director

Assistant General Manager
(Corporate Communication)

Mr Mark Sarvelli
Operations Director

Mr Alex CHOI
General Manager (Operations)

For item V

Mass Transit Railway Corporation

Mrs Miranda LEUNG
Corporate Relations Manager

Operations Manager (Lantau Airport Railway)

Mr Martin Brown
Chief Engineer (Operations)

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Estella CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)4

Staff in attendance :

Mr Andy LAU
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)6

I Confirmation of minutes and matters arising
(LC Paper No.CB(1)69/98-99 - Minutes of meeting held on 14 July 1998)

The minutes of the meeting held on 14 July 1998 were confirmed.

II Information papers issued since last meeting
(LC Paper No. CB(1)77/98-99 - Information paper on bus services in Yuen Long and Tuen Mun after the opening of Route 3 (Country Park Section))

2. Members noted the information paper issued since the last meeting.

III Items for discussion at the next meeting scheduled for 25 September 1998
(List of outstanding items for discussion)

3. Members went through the list of outstanding items for discussion and agreed to discuss the following items at the next meeting to be held on 25 September 1998:

  1. The Hongkong & Yaumati Ferry Co. Ltd.'s franchise and pier development package;

  2. Review of the Transport Advisory Committee and the bus fare determination mechanism; and

  3. Multi-storey public carpark at Stanley Market.

4. In connection with item (b) above, members noted that the Administration had requested a consultant to conduct a review of the bus fare determination mechanism in the context of the review of the Transport Advisory Committee and agreed to discuss the issue under the same item if the Administration was ready to report on the consultancy study.

5. Whilst the interim report of the Second Railway Development Study commissioned by the Administration was yet to be ready, members agreed to request the Mass Transit Railway Corporation to release its latest proposal for the implementation of the East Kowloon Route for members' advance information.

IV Transitional arrangements for the takeover of the China Motor Bus franchise
(LC Paper No. CB(1)87/98-99(01) - Information paper provided by the Administration)

6. A written submission from the Democratic Party was tabled at the meeting for members' information.

7. At the invitation of the Chairman, the Managing Director of New World First Bus Services Limited (MD/New World) briefed members on the progress made to date in respect of the transitional arrangements for the transfer of 88 bus routes from the China Motor Bus Company Limited (CMB) to New World First Bus Services Limited (New World) on 1 September 1998. He said that in order to ensure a smooth transition of bus services, an operational plan for service commencement on 1 September 1998 had been drawn up in collaboration with relevant Government departments for implementation. New World would make arrangements to ensure that sufficient numbers of buses and drivers would be made available for operation on 1 September 1998. On the acquisition of depots, maintenance and servicing facilities, he said that an initial agreement had been reached with CMB over the procurement of its recovery vehicles, plant and machinery in depots, and other ancillary maintenance facilities. New World had also proposed to lease from CMB the use of its Chai Wan depot for a period of three years. Negotiations were underway over the rental and other terms. Other servicing support agreements for bus operation were being arranged with respective suppliers and contractors.

8. Members expressed grave concern about the transition of bus services on 1 September 1998 which would coincide with the first day of a new school year. They pointed out that even without the transfer of bus routes, chaotic situation arose each year on the first few days of a new school year when thousands of students returned to school after the summer holiday. In view of the experience and taking into account the fact that many of the changeover issues between the two companies had yet to be resolved, they worried about the serious confusion that might result on 1 September 1998. To minimize impact on the public, some members suggested that the changeover should take place a few days before the end of CMB's franchise on 31 August 1998.

9. The Commissioner for Transport (C for T) replied that under existing provisions in the Public Bus Services Ordinance, CMB's franchise could only be suspended before its expiry under two circumstances: it had failed to maintain a proper and efficient public bus service, or in case of an emergency. However, neither of the circumstances were applicable in the present case. Thus, there was no legal basis for the Government to revoke CMB's franchise unilaterally. Furthermore, CMB had indicated its willingness to operate the bus services until the expiry of its franchise on 31 August 1998. In case a commercial agreement could not be reached between CMB and New World over the transfer of CMB's bus-related assets, the Government could exercise its authority to take over such assets from CMB on 1 September 1998 for maintaining a proper and efficient bus services for the public. At the request of members, C for T undertook to relay members' concern to CMB as to whether CMB was willing to give up its franchise earlier under a mutual agreement.

10. The Secretary for Transport added that whilst it was inevitable that some degree of confusion might arise as a result of the overnight transfer, the Administration would closely monitor the situation and make every effort to facilitate the takeover of the bus routes by New World on 1 September 1998 with a view to minimizing the impact of the changeover on the public.

11. Responding to members' questions on the details of the contingency plan, C for T advised that an operational plan for service commencement on 1 September 1998 together with a series of contingency measures, which would involve the cooperation of other public transport operators, had been drawn up to facilitate the takeover of the bus routes by New World. Spare vehicles and drivers would also be made available by New World to strengthen bus services on individual routes based on actual demand. New World and Transport Department would set up control centres to oversee the changeover and to co-ordinate the deployment of buses.

12. MD/New World added that for a smooth transition on 1 September 1998, existing bus routings and stopping arrangements would be maintained during the initial period and publicity in this regard would be arranged in due course. He noted a member's suggestion that notices should be posted in existing CMB termini and bus stops to inform the public prior to the changeover.

13. Responding to members' concern about whether sufficient staff could be made available for operation on 1 September 1998, C for T advised that the staff registration exercise conducted by New World in May 1998 attracted a turnout of more than 2,400 CMB staff, including office staff. Formal offers of appointment would be made by New World to these staff in early August 1998. MD/New World added that the number of staff to be engaged would be more than adequate for the operation of the 88 bus routes.

14. As to whether adequate number of buses would be made available for operation on 1 September 1998, C for T advised that New World had reached a commercial agreement with CMB on the procurement of 710 CMB buses. In addition, 50 new buses would arrive before the end of August and would be deployed to upgrade services on some routes to meet demand and passenger expectations. Hence, there would be at least 760 buses on 1 September 1998 which were more than the scheduled number of buses required for the 88 routes. The Operations Director/New World added that the majority of the new buses procured were of a similar type to those in use by CMB and hence, there should not be any adaptation problem. MD/New World also said that temporary drivers would be engaged to familiarize themselves with the newly procured buses prior to the changeover.

15. Referring to buses to be procured from CMB, MD/New World said that the age of the vehicles ranged from 1 to 18 years with an average age of 11 years. As requested by a member, he would provide further information on the age breakdown of vehicles. On acquisition of new buses, he said that New World would acquire 500 new buses over a period of about 2 years for gradual replacement of the CMB fleet. On the use of Octopus, MD/New World advised that the company's target was to equip all buses with Octopus processors but this had to be carried out in phases. New World

16. Members expressed grave concern about the safety and maintenance of buses in the transition period, particularly when a number of CMB staff were now having their vacation prior to termination of employment. C for T assured members that regular inspections at depots and random checks at termini would be carried out by engineers of the Transport Department to ensure that buses were safe and fit for operation at all times.

17. On recent complaints about CMB's failure to operate the services in accordance with the Schedules of Service, C for T advised that the Transport Department would closely monitor the situation and take up individual complaints with CMB. She, however, pointed out that it was not uncommon for bus companies to adjust the service level of its bus services during the summer holiday in view of lower passenger demand on individual routes during this period.

18. On the assignment of bus depots to a franchisee, C for T advised that it was no longer a Government policy to require a grantee to procure land in the market for the construction of depots. Rather, the Government would try to identify suitable sites and allocate the land to the franchisee for use under a short term tenancy agreement. The franchisee would be required to build the depot at its own cost and, if the franchise were not renewed, to surrender the site to the replacement operator upon the expiry of its franchise. The construction costs incurred, after depreciation, would be reimbursed by the new replacement operator. As to the right of access by New World to CMB depots, she said that since the Chai Wan depot was owned by CMB and taking into account the fact that there was an operational need for CMB to maintain its use and control until the expiry of its current franchise on 31 August 1998, the facilities could only be transferred to New World on 1 September 1998 under a commercial agreement. Negotiations between the two companies were underway. Contingency measures would be drawn up to cope with a situation in which the depot could not be released in time by CMB.

19. To minimize the impact of the changeover on the public, a member suggested that consideration should be given to deferring the school opening date. Another member also suggested that staggered hours for attending schools on 1 September 1998 should be arranged. C for T replied that it was still too early to consider such alternatives as negotiations between CMB and New World were continuing. The Administration would continue to monitor the development and review the need for such measures in due course.

20. The Chairman urged New World to continue the negotiations with CMB and the Administration to provide all the necessary support.

V Connecting transport arrangements for the new airport
(including a report on the train service disruption of the Airport Railway on 23 July 1998)

(LC Paper No.CB(1)87/98-99(02) - Information paper provided by the Administration

LC Paper No.CB(1)87/98-99(03) - Information paper provided by the Mass Transit Railway Corporation on temporary disruption of Tung Chung Line service on 23 July 1998)

21. A written submission from the Office of Mr LEE Wing-tat on the Tung Chung Line service and the presentation material from the Mass Transit Railway Corporation were tabled at the meeting for members' information.

22. At the invitation of the Chairman, the Operations Manager (Lantau Airport Railway), Mass Transit Railway Corporation (OM/MTRC) briefed members on the details and cause of the temporary disruption of Tung Chung Line service on 23 July 1998, and subsequent actions taken by the Corporation. In response to the Chairman, he said that the incident was not caused by any technical defect in the system but the movement of a train operating in manual mode led to damage to a rail crossing at Tsing Yi Station, hence blocking the operation of both the Airport Express and Tung Chung Line services.

23. Members commented that the incident was a reflection of inadequacy of training for train operators. OM/MTRC replied that the contents and duration of the training programme were similar to those of the urban lines and some parts of the programme were enhanced to cater for the distinct circumstances of the Airport Express and Tung Chung Line. As operators were all required to pass an examination before they were allowed to drive, they should be able to operate the train under different circumstances. However, in the light of the incident, the Corporation would review the matter and see how staff training could be further enhanced.

24. Members generally considered that the recovery action was far from satisfactory as it took a long time for normal service to resume, not to mention the fact that the railway was not yet operating at full capacity. A member urged MTRC to put in more resources to address the problem so as to avoid the recurrence of similar incidents in future.

25. OM/MTRC advised that on the day of the incident, arrangements had been made to maintain the Airport Express service and to enable train service on Tung Chung Line to resume as soon as possible. He noted members' concern about the incident and would review the effectiveness and efficiency of the recovery action and staff training with a view to preventing similar incidents in future.

26. A member expressed concern that the incident might be attributable to inadequate system testing prior to the opening of the railway. OM/MTRC advised that the problems encountered did not have any safety implications. Indeed, a series of commencement tests had been conducted 12 weeks prior to the opening of the railway to ensure the safety of the system. However, for such a large scale and complex project, some teething problems would be expected. In this regard, MTRC had taken actions to fine tune the system.

27. As a result of the incident, a member asked if it was necessary to modify the trains to suit the new signalling system. The Chief Engineer (Operations), Mass Transit Railway Corporation (CE/MTRC) advised that there was no technical issue at stake and the incident was purely a human error. The signalling system also had no basic problem with any safety implications, although there had been incidents relating to the trains' inability to receive start signal from the train control system. These teething problems had been addressed and the necessary improvement work was being carried out so as to optimize the performance of the system.

28. A member expressed concern about the great inconvenience caused to the public by the service disruption of the Airport Railway, particularly for outgoing air passengers. He therefore considered it necessary to formulate effective contingency strategies for handling such a situation.

29. C for T replied that Transport Department had set up the Emergency Transport Coordination Centre shortly after the incident to mobilise other transport operators to assist. Apart from strengthening the frequency of the buses serving the new Airport, free shuttle buses were arranged by MTRC to operate at Tung Chung, Tsing Yi, Kowloon and Hong Kong Stations to replace the suspended Tung Chung Line services. The Assistant Commissioner for Transport added that the free shuttle bus service originally arranged to terminate at Tung Chung Station was extended to the Airport as and when requested by outgoing air passengers on board the vehicles. Officers were also deployed on site to monitor the situation closely.

30. As to other incidents of trains being routed to inappropriate platforms, CE/MTRC advised that these were isolated incidents due to a software problem. Though causing inconvenience to passengers, these incidents did not have any safety implications. Nevertheless, MTRC was addressing the issue to prevent recurrence of similar incidents.

31. Referring to the daily operation of the Tung Chung Line service, a member pointed out that the actual journey time between Tung Chung and Hong Kong Stations had by far exceeded the designed journey time of 23 minutes. OM/MTRC replied that the system was still at its initial stage of operation and the performance of the railway was improving. Presently, most of the trips from Tung Chung Station to Hong Kong Station could be completed within 30 minutes, and often below 25 minutes. He was confident that the designed journey time of 23 minutes could be achieved within two to three months.

32. As to whether the promotion fare for the Airport Express Line would be retained, the Corporate Relations Manager/MTRC advised that the purpose of the 30% fare discount was to promote usage of the system until 5 October and a decision would be made closer to the time as to whether the discount should continue. OM/MTRC further advised that presently, the average daily patronage on the Airport Express was about 26,000. With enhanced frequency and more efficient service, the Airport Express Line would be able to attain a higher market share.

33. Some members expressed concern that there were inadequate connecting transport services to serve employees working in the airport, particularly at midnight and early in the morning. A member also requested the Administration to introduce a bus service from Ma On Shan to the new airport.

34. C for T replied that the airport bus network was designed on the basis of the recommendations of a consultancy study. In determining the feasibility and efficiency of individual routes, there was a need to consider the estimated number of passengers. The bus network had been expanded upon discussions with major employers at the new airport prior to its opening. She noted members' concern about the adequacy of airbus services and would collect additional data from major employers to determine whether it was justified to extend the service hours of some routes to meet passenger demand. On the other hand, in order to avoid traffic disruption and taking into account the fact that the planning of the present bus network had already taken the demand of employees into account, employees' services which duplicated the routings of franchised services would not be allowed. She would, however, explore with employers the feasibility of introducing such employees' services after midnight when the day-time bus services had been suspended. The Transport Department would carry out a review in 3 months' time and make service adjustment proposals where appropriate.

35. In concluding the discussion, the Chairman urged the Administration to heed members' views and take immediate steps to address the problem of inadequate connecting transport services for employees working in the airport, rather than waiting for the completion of the said review.

VI Any other business

36. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 1:00 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
2 September 1998