LC Paper No. CB(1) 491/98-99
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)

Ref: CB1/PL/TP

LegCo Panel on Transport

Minutes of meeting held on Wednesday, 14 October 1998, at 9:30 am in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP (Chairman)
Hon LAU Kong-wah (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo

Members absent :

Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon LAU Chin-shek, JP
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Public officers attending:
Mr Nicholas NG Wing-fui
Secretary for Transport

Mrs Fanny LAW
Commissioner for Transport

Director of Highways

Mr Kevin HO
Deputy Secretary for Transport

Mr Alex FONG
Deputy Secretary for Transport

Ms Linda LAI
Deputy Secretary for Transport
Clerk in attendance :
Mr Andy LAU,
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)6
Staff in attendance :
Ms Pauline NG,
Assistant Secretary General 1

Mr Daniel HUI,
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)5
I Briefing by the Administration on the Chief Executive's Policy Address 1998

At the Chairman's invitation, the Secretary for Transport (S for T) briefed members on the policy objectives of the Transport Bureau as outlined in the 1998 Policy Address.
(Post-meeting note: A copy of the outline of S for T's presentation was circulated to members vide LC Paper No. CB(1)326/98-99)

Infrastructural projects
Cross-harbour tunnels

2. Referring to the currently uneven distribution of traffic utilising the three cross-harbour tunnels, S for T advised that the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and the Eastern Harbour Crossing were at present operating at capacity during peak hours although the Western Harbour Crossing was still under-utilized. He did not consider it appropriate for the Administration to intervene in the management of the cross-harbour tunnels but efforts had always been made to ensure adequate provision of cross-harbour road links. As regards the effect of applying the same toll for all three tunnels, S for T reminded members that the toll for Western Harbour Crossing was governed by the Western Harbour Crossing Ordinance. Unless the operator of Western Harbour Crossing was prepared to reduce the toll out of its own initiative, there was no way to bring the tolls of the three tunnels in line with each other except increasing the tolls of the other two tunnels. Tunnel tolls should be determined by the respective companies on commercial grounds. He did not believe an increase in the tunnel tolls was what the community wanted, but he would examine the issue in the light of the expiry of the Cross Harbour Tunnel's franchise next year.

Railway projects

3. On the Administration's decision to invite the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation to submit a detailed proposal for the implementation of the Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau Spur Line (the Spur Line), some members enquired about the reasons for advancing the planning of this project which was originally included as part of the West Rail Phase II development. In response, S for T said that the number of passenger trips at Lo Wu had increased steadily for some years and the growth rate in the past six to nine months was particularly significant. There were on average more than 180,000 daily passenger traffic during week days and more than 200,000 on holidays and weekends. Due to the design of the Lo Wu Station, it was not possible to further expand the rail terminal to cope with the increase in passenger traffic. With the Shenzhen Metro terminal at Huanggang due for completion by late 2003, it was more viable to address the problem of cross boundary passenger growth by providing a new rail passenger crossing at Huanggang / Lok Ma Chau. S or T stressed that the proposed Spur Line was not a new project and in determining the timing of implementation of the project, the Administration had to be flexible so as to ensure the timely provision of cross boundary passenger and freight services to meet the needs of the community.

4. As regards consultation with the Shenzhen authorities on the proposed construction of the Spur Line, S for T advised that the proposed construction of a new rail passenger crossing at Huanggang / Lok Ma Chau had been endorsed by the Infrastructure Co-ordinating Committee which comprised representatives from the Mainland and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The Shenzhen authorities had already obtained the necessary approval to proceed with the planning and implementation of the Shenzhen Metro which would connect to the proposed Huanggang/Lok Ma Chau passenger crossing.

5. Mr LAU Kong-wah pointed out that the Lo Wu Station was designed only to cater for railway services. Easing of the passenger traffic flow had therefore become very difficult. He suggested that the Administration, in designing the new Huanggong/Lok Ma Chau crossing, should consider allowing access by other vehicles, such as mini-buses, taxis, etc. S for T replied that it was Government policy to accord priority to transport modes which had the highest carrying capacity. Free access by all kinds of vehicles to the crossing area, especially if it were to continue being designated as a restricted area, might give rise to security problems. He undertook to discuss with the Security Bureau on the subject.Admin

6. Some members also echoed the need to ease traffic congestion at cross-border control points and enquired the present position of other connecting points. S for T confirmed that the Administration was studying with the Mainland authorities concerned about the feasibility of setting up new cross-border control points. Items under study included the Lingdingyang Bridge and the Shenzhen Western Corridor.

7. Mr CHENG Kar-foo opined that in order to enhance the financial viability of the Ma On Shan (MOS) rail link and to meet the transport needs of residents, the proposed rail should be extended to the urban area instead of stopping at Tai Wai. He said that according to a survey conducted by the Democratic Party, 60% - 70% of the respondents indicated that they would not take the MOS rail link if it was not extended to the urban area. In response, S for T said that he was fully aware of Mr Cheng's concern, but given the resource constraint, the Administration had to set priorities in implementing the various rail proposals. The Government had committed itself to developing five more railway projects in the next five years. These projects involved extensive capital costs. Notwithstanding the above, there was plan to extend the MOS rail link to urban area in future when forecast demand justified the further extension of the MOS rail link to urban area.

8. Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee concurred that the Government should set out its priorities in implementing different infrastructural projects according to need. However, once the need had been established, the Administration ought to make its decisions quickly and make every effort to ensure timely completion of the projects. S for T noted Mrs CHOW's point and assured members that the Administration would continue to strike a fair balance amongst competing requests for transportation facilities.

Road network

9. In response to the question about the East Kowloon Line, S for T assured members that the East Kowloon Line to cater for the needs of a population of 600,000 to 700,000 was one of the priority projects under examination by the consultants in the Second Railway Development Study.

Traffic congestion

10. Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee pointed out that although she supported a high quality of public transport service, there appeared to be an over-provision in some bus routes as evidenced by long queues of empty buses in some areas. The Commissioner for Transport (C for T) said that she was aware of the situation and the Transport Department (TD) was already examining the issue. She pointed out that the problem was partly due to the public's resistance to the bus rationalization programme after the introduction of new bus services. Members of the public were yet to be convinced of the merits of the rationalization exercise. C for T added that traffic management was a common problem in metropolitan cities. One of the more viable possible solutions was to reduce the volume of traffic. In this regard, TD was testing a park and ride proposal for residents in the New Territories with a view to reducing vehicular traffic from residential areas in the New Territories to urban areas.

11. Regarding traffic management measures, the Chairman remarked that the use of fiscal measures to restrain the growth of traffic such as the proposed electronic road pricing scheme was rather controversial and required careful consideration.

12. Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee also requested the Administration to address the transport needs of the services sector, in particular, their loading and unloading activities on kerbside lanes.

Transport fares

13. Some members pointed out that public transport fares in Hong Kong were high. In view of the weakening economy, operational costs for public transport had also dropped. They enquired whether the Administration would encourage the public transport operators including the railway corporations, bus companies and green minibus operators, to lower their fares. In response, S for T said that public transport services operators were competing with each other in the provision of transport services to the travelling public. The fare level therefore had to be acceptable to the general public under the prevailing economic situation. The two railway corporations had already decided to freeze their fares for the current financial year. When they reviewed their fares next year, they would take into account the operating costs at that time and other relevant factors. Although the Government was the sole owner of the two railway corporations, it would not be appropriate for the Government to intervene in the decisions of the corporations which operated in accordance with prudent commercial principles. Should the corporations suffered deficit due to directives coming from the Government and such directives were against these principles, the Government would have to use public money to make up the losses.

14. On green minibus fares, C for T advised that a freeze could not be applied across the board. Some green minibus operators would not be able to lower their operating costs because of their special operating circumstances. They might not therefore be able to operate at the present fare level. TD was conducting studies on possible restructuring of green minibus routes on Hong Kong Island with a view to promoting intermodal transport services.

15. On the question on processing applications for green minibus fare adjustments, C for T said that the applications were submitted at different timing by different operators. TD would assess each fare adjustment application on its own merits taking into account the service providers' operating costs, inflation and the acceptability of the proposed fares to the travelling public. TD would also consult the relevant Provisional District Boards before making decision on the applications.

16. On the review of the bus fare determination mechanism, S for T clarified that as a Profit Control Scheme was no longer operated on the franchised bus services, the Administration was in the process of establishing a mechanism for determining bus fares. The mechanism would include, inter alia, the factors to be taken into account in determining bus fare level in future. C for T further advised that the consultant engaged by the Administration on establishing a bus fare determining mechanism had completed its preliminary study on the subject and was collecting views from the bus companies on the consultant's preliminary proposal. She undertook to brief members on the consultant's recommendation when the study was completed.Admin

II Any other business

17. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 10:40 am.

Legislative Council Secretariat
17 November 1998