- The Consumer Council (the Council) is pleased to submit its views concerning the Transport Department’s (TD) public consultation on the Franchises of Citybus Limited (Franchise for Airport and North Lantau Bus Network) (Citybus Franchise 2), Long Win Bus Company Limited (LW) and New World First Bus Services Limited (NWFB) as set out in a consultation paper (the Consultation Paper) issued by the TD on 18 June 2021.
- While the Council has no objection to the granting of new franchises to Citybus (Franchise 2), LW and NWFB upon expiry of the current ones, the Council provides the following views on the requirements of the new franchises for TD to consider for purpose of enhancing consumer rights and protection.
Improvement of service reliability and quality
- The Council noted that the satisfaction levels of the reliability of bus services for the three franchised bus companies were lower compared to other aspects of bus services, such as comfort of buses and facilities on the bus. In terms of the number of complaints per million passengers, there was also an increasing trend for the statistics about the complaints and suggestions received by the Transport Complaint Unit on the services of Citybus (Franchise 2) and NWFB in the past eight quarters since April – June 2019. Such trend reflects the need for improvement in the service quality of these companies.
- In this regard, the Council suggests that the new franchises may impose requirements, as well as incentive and/or penalty measures, to demand strengthening of service reliability and quality of the three bus companies, in particular the improvement of lost trip rate. As provided in the Consultation Paper, NWFB had the highest lost trip rate as compared with Citybus (Franchise 2) and LW.
Enhancement of safety
- According to the Consultation Paper, between 2013 and 2020, the number of NWFB buses involved in accidents per million vehicle-kilometre was 5.95 per annum, higher than the overall industry average of 3.24 during the same period. While acknowledging that TD has been carrying out regular monitoring surveys to ensure franchised bus companies’ compliance with its guidelines, the Council suggests that the new franchises may require the bus companies provide reports on improvement plan for the reduction of accident rate and set reduction target for the bus companies at the outset, as well as to include such in their annual Forward Planning Programme which mainly for service improvement and route development.
Conducting regular review and assessment on bus fare
- The Council is aware that there are opinions from the public that the vetting process about the fare increase applications of the franchised bus companies under the Fare Adjustment Arrangement was too long, for instance there might be a few years of time lag between the application time and approval time. Since there was a time lag, sometimes the increase rate of some bus routes might seem to be substantial as felt by the general public. To address this concern, the Council suggests that a more balanced mechanism, in terms of review time and a more stable fare for the public, should be imposed in the bus fare review and assessment process to have regard to public acceptability and affordability.
Enhancement of information transparency
- In order to enhance information transparency and drive improvement, the Council suggests that the new franchises may require more detailed service pledge information and complaint figures of the franchised bus companies be published on platforms easily accessible by consumers on a regular basis (e.g. updated monthly on their official website).
- The Council noted that accident data, mechanical reliability, operational capability and lost trip rate are currently published on the websites or annual reports of the franchised bus companies on an annual basis. The Council opines that more kinds of information, such as complaint cases lodged with the franchised bus companies (e.g. nature, figure and follow-up/improvement work done) and target and actual figures on lost trip rate and accident rate may also be published on the websites of the franchised bus companies on a regular basis.
- In addition, it seems to the Council that service pledge for complaint handling is not available on LW’s website. The Council suggests that the new franchises may require enhancement of information transparency about the mechanism for complaint handling and appeal, especially for the case of LW.
Improvement on environmental performance
- Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting is an emerging global trend. As revealed in the latest sustainable consumption behaviour report published by the Council in June this year entitled “Embracing Sustainable Consumption for a Happy Life – A Tracking Study on Consumer Behaviour”, there is an overall improvement in consumers’ attitude and behaviour as reflected by the Sustainable Consumption Index. In particular, almost 6-in-10 consumer respondents responded that they would give priority to those companies which are environmentally friendly; and close to 70% of the consumer respondents strongly agreed or agreed that they would commit more to support sustainable consumption if retailers or services providers commit more. The latter was a significant increase as compared with the baseline survey conducted in 2015 (60%). Such findings indicated that there is a growing aspiration from consumers on environmental performance of service providers.
- In view of the above consideration, the Council suggests the new franchises to include requirements on improvement plan and target for the sustainable development of bus services, in particular environmental sustainability. For instance, improvement plan and targets in terms of cleaner fuel with less pollution and carbon emission, greener bus models, appropriate air-conditioning temperature and less noise pollution. The Council considers that such targets should be reported in respective ESG reports or sustainability reports of the franchised bus companies.
- To conclude, the Council hopes the TD would take consideration of the above suggestions and set more stringent requirements of the new franchises for the bus networks of Citybus (Franchise 2), LW and NWFB for the betterment of bus services and consumer protection.
 Referring to paragraph 2.5 of the Passenger Opinion Survey for the NWFB, LW and Citybus Franchise 2 (Annex A of the Consultation Paper).
 Transport Complaints Unit Quarterly Report No. 1 of 2021, Transport Complaints Unit of the Transport Advisory Committee.
 According to the Consultation Paper, the annual average lost trip rate of NWFB was 2.5% between 2013 and 2019; which was the highest as compared with LW (1.2%) and Citybus (Franchise 2) (1.2%).
 For the last bus fare adjustment, the five franchised bus operators submitted the fare increase applications to the Government in 2018 and 2019, and the vetting decision was announced in March 2021 and became effective in April 2021.
 All three franchised bus companies concerned are listed companies which have already included sustainability report in their annual report as required by HKEx, which listed environment performance, e.g. emission data. However, it seems that improvement targets are not available in the annual report of LW; as for Citybus and NWFB, only an overall reduction target for the whole business group is reported, there is no separate data for the bus services.