7th June 2023 – (Hong Kong) The Government Public Transport Fare Concession Scheme for the Elderly and Eligible Persons with Disabilities, commonly known as the $2 Scheme, was launched in 2012 to provide elderly individuals and eligible persons with disabilities with a subsidised fare of $2 per trip on designated public transport modes and services. In February 2022, the scheme was enhanced to cover red minibuses, kaitos, trams, and residents’ buses, and the eligible age was lowered from 65 to 60, benefiting more than 600,000 people in the age group of 60-64. However, concerns have arisen over the financial burden imposed by the scheme on the government. In response, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr. Chris Sun, addressed these concerns in the Legislative Council on 7th June.
In response to Hon Tik Chi-yuen’s question, Mr. Sun explained that the government had already considered the scheme’s financial implications, taking into account factors such as the ageing population of beneficiaries, upward adjustment of transport fares, and an increase in the number of participating public transport operators (PTOs). With the implementation of the enhancement measures since February 2022, the actual expenditure of the $2 Scheme in 2022-23 is within the range of estimated expenditure. Therefore, the Government has responded to the views that the scheme’s expenditure is a bottomless pit, and the decision to lower the eligible age to 60 was lightly made.
Mr. Sun also addressed concerns regarding suspected abuse of the scheme, including taking long-haul routes for short journeys, which have increased from around $1.2 billion in 2018-19 to around $3.1 billion in 2022-23. The Government reimburses the PTOs the actual applicable fare after deducting any concessions offered by the PTOs minus the uniform flat rate of $2 per trip paid by an eligible beneficiary on an accountable basis. To combat abuses of the $2 Scheme by ineligible passengers, the Transport Department (TD) and PTOs conducted site monitoring surveys between 2018 and 2022, which resulted in 1,304 suspected abuse cases. The TD will conduct territory-wide joint enforcement actions with PTOs within this month to step up enforcement actions against abuses of the $2 Scheme by ineligible persons. The MTR Corporation Limited will also enhance publicity and education, strengthen ticket inspection, and impose a surcharge on all ineligible passengers traveling at the concessionary fares.
As for the possibility of raising the fare under the $2 Scheme to $3, Mr. Sun stated that the government’s focus at this stage is to combat abuse by ineligible persons and enhance joint enforcement actions with PTOs to ensure that the resources of the $2 Scheme are spent on target beneficiaries. The government will devise a feasible plan to collect data on beneficiaries taking long-haul routes for short trips as soon as possible.
As part of the crackdown, the government will be working with public transport operators to increase enforcement efforts, and penalties for misusing the scheme will be increased. The penalty for misusing the $2 scheme will be raised from $500 to $1,000, and the penalty for Light Rail Transit will be raised from $290 to $370.
Misuse of the scheme includes taking advantage of the subsidised fare when ineligible, such as using someone else’s card or not meeting the age requirements. Those found misusing the scheme may face fines from transport operators and even legal action. TD (Transport Department) will also establish a dedicated team to work closely with franchised bus and ferry operators to combat abuses of the $2 Scheme. This move comes in response to reports of non-eligible persons using other passengers’ Octopus cards to enjoy the discounted fare. The department is warning the public that such actions are illegal, and offenders will not only be required to pay the shortfall or a surcharge on the spot, but the case will also be referred to the police for investigation and follow-up. Those found guilty of abusing the scheme are liable to imprisonment. To raise awareness of this issue, the government has launched a new round of publicity programmes, including TV and radio announcements and posters, to remind the public not to break the law.
Anthony Cheung, former Secretary for Transport and Housing, has expressed concerns over the long-term financial burden created by the scheme. He has suggested raising the fare to $3 as a solution.
The $2 Scheme was launched in 2012 to provide affordable transportation to elderly individuals and eligible persons with disabilities. In February 2022, the scheme was enhanced to cover red minibuses, kaitos, trams, and residents’ buses, and the eligible age was lowered from 65 to 60, benefiting more than 600,000 people in the age group of 60 to 64.
However, concerns have been raised over the financial implications of the scheme, with some suggesting that the cost may become unsustainable over time. Sun has stated that the government has already taken into account factors such as the aging population of beneficiaries, upward adjustments of transport fares, and increasing participation of public transport operators, and that the actual expenditure of the $2 Scheme in 2022-23 is within the range of estimated expenditure.
To address concerns over misuse of the scheme, the Transport Department and public transport operators conducted site monitoring surveys between 2018 and 2022, which resulted in 1,304 suspected abuse cases. The government will be conducting territory-wide joint enforcement actions with public transport operators this month to step up enforcement actions against ineligible persons taking advantage of the $2 Scheme. Given that the enhancement and anti-abuse measures of the scheme have been implemented progressively for just over a year since the end of February 2022, the current focus of the government’s work is to reinforce efforts to prevent abuse by ineligible persons. Alongside this, the government will collaborate with Public Transport Operators (PTOs) to conduct joint enforcement actions to enhance the deterrent effect and safeguard that the resources of the $2 Scheme are directed towards the intended beneficiaries.