Government to enhance monitoring of franchised bus services

Lam Sai-hung

29th November 2023 – (Hong Kong) In a recent session at the Legislative Council today, concerns were raised regarding the deteriorating performance of franchised buses in Hong Kong. Members of the public expressed frustration over the lack of regular updates on lost trip rates of individual bus routes by the Transport Department (TD), making it difficult to assess the service quality of franchised bus companies. In response to these concerns, the Secretary for Transport and Logistics, Mr. Lam Sai-hung, provided a detailed reply outlining the government’s efforts to monitor and improve the situation.

The TD employs a comprehensive mechanism to evaluate the services provided by franchised bus operators. Each bus route operates under a Schedule of Service issued by the TD, which specifies details such as routing, service hours, headway, and bus allocation. The department diligently monitors service levels and regularity through various methods, including regular inspections, review of operating records and data, on-site surveys, and analysis of public feedback regarding lost trips.

In addressing the questions raised by Hon Luk Chung-hung, Mr. Lam Sai-hung provided the following information:

(1) Irregularities in bus services are broadly categorized as “lost trips” and “deviations from schedule.” “Lost trips” occur when a scheduled departure is not executed, while “deviations from schedule” refer to instances when a departure occurs earlier or later than the scheduled time. Various factors contribute to these irregularities, some within the control of operators (e.g., journey time, vehicle breakdowns, and manpower deployment), and others beyond their control (e.g., weather conditions, traffic congestion, and accidents).

“Lost trips” have a more significant impact on passengers, and the TD considers the “lost trip rate” as a crucial metric when assessing overall service regularity. The lost trip rate is calculated as the percentage of lost trips against the total number of scheduled departures over a specific period.

“Deviations from schedule” are primarily caused by unstable travel times, and the impact on passengers varies depending on the extent of the deviation. While the TD does not calculate deviation rates, it closely monitors punctuality and journey time data. If recurrent deviations are observed, appropriate actions are taken to ensure service regularity.

(2) Records of individual bus routes’ departures, provided by franchised bus operators to the TD, are for internal use and may not be suitable for public disclosure due to variations in service modes and schedules. Instead, the overall “lost trip rates” by bus franchise can provide a better reference. The lost trip rates of different bus franchises from January to June 2023 are as follows:

  • Kowloon Motor Bus Company (1933) Limited: 2.6%
  • Citybus Limited (Franchise for Hong Kong Island and Cross-Harbour bus network): 2.4%
  • Citybus Limited (Franchise for the Airport and North Lantau bus network): 1.8%
  • New World First Bus Services Limited: 4.5%
  • Long Win Bus Company Limited: 2.1%
  • New Lantao Bus Company (1973) Limited: 0.4%
  • Overall: 2.7%

Please note that the Citybus Limited franchise for Hong Kong Island and Cross-Harbour bus network merged with the New World First Bus Services Limited franchise on July 1, 2023. The new franchise is now called Citybus Limited (Franchise for the Urban and New Territories bus network).

(3) and (5) The TD closely monitors franchised bus services and takes prompt actions to address service irregularities. It does not wait for lost trip rates to reach specific levels before initiating follow-up measures. In response to recommendations from the Office of The Ombudsman in 2014, the TD has implemented various improvements. These include requiring operators to provide detailed categorization of the causes of lost trips and calculating lost trip rates based on segregated time periods. This approach enables the identification of effective solutions tailored to specific causes and time periods.

When a franchised bus operator fails to meet TD requirements, the department issues reminding letters to highlight necessary improvements. If the operator fails to provide a reasonable explanation or make necessary changes, advisory letters are issued, specifying compliance requirements and improvement measures within a designated timeframe. Depending on the severity and persistence of the issue, warning letters may be issued for individual routes or overall lost trip situations. Warning letters are accompanied by written notices to the operator’s board of directors to emphasize the significance of addressing the lost trip problem. The TD also considers lost trip situations when reviewing fare increase applications from franchised bus operators.

If a franchised bus operator consistently experiences high lost trip rates without implementing effective mitigation measures, the Chief Executive in Council (CE in C) may exercise power under the Public Bus Services Ordinance (Cap. 230) to impose penalties on the operator. In extreme cases, the CE in C may even revoke the operator’s operating rights for specific routes or the entire franchise.

Past experiences have demonstrated the effectiveness of this mechanism. When franchised bus operators experience persistently high lost trip rates, the TD works closely with them to identify the causes and implement remedial measures. These measures may include adjustments to timetables, deployment of additional resources, improvement in maintenance practices, and enhancement of driver training. The TD also encourages operators to embrace new technologies and data analytics to improve service regularity and reliability.