Last Saturday the SCMP published a letter from New World First Bus in response to a letter last Wednesday that said that they "get completely free use of the roads" (whereas the MTR and KCR have to pay for the railbeds). It was quite a short letter, but it made two splendidly ludicrous claims:
In fact, bus companies and their passengers pay dearly for using roads in Hong Kong, in the form of a congestion (time) charge that serves to increase operating costs and thereby directly impacts upon fares. This penalty is, of course, mitigated to a great extent by the superior comfort of bus travel in Hong Kong, with most passengers being conveniently chauffeured from door to door in an individual seat space that is climate- controlled, inviting and altogether very relaxing.
Good grief. What is an "individual seat space"? What use is it to have the climate controlled by someone who apparently owns shares in "North Face". Or a "chauffeur" who accelerates away and then slams on the brakes? And not even any mention of Idiot TV, I see.
As for the congestion on Hong Kong's roads, even a public transport enthusiast such as myself can see that there are too many buses operating at most times of the day. Could this possibly be because the bus companies pay so little for fuel? Would that be a subsidy, perhaps?
No surprise that Jake van der Kamp and David Webb have both responded to this nonsense, so I'll leave it to them.
First Jake van der Kamp's Monitor column:
Relaxed? So there I sit on New World First bus, sideways or knees akimbo, because the seat space is so short that my legs won't fit in, with freezing air being blown on my head and nausea rising by the way that I am thrown back and forth because the bus is overpowered and the driver occasionally fancies himself an F1 hero.
To top it off, an abominable drivel of mind-numbing "music" videos, silly slimming ads and other drum-ridden hype is forced into my ears and eyes from bus TV that I cannot turn off.
What happened to my quiet, relaxing bus ride to work in the morning? Give me my old China Motor Bus back. It never did any of these things to me.
Do you want to know one small reason for congestion on the roads, Mr Savelli? It is that I more often take my car to work now because I cannot bear your vile bus TV any longer. I am not your only lost passenger on that score.
And if congestion is such a big concern to you, why is it that the franchised bus companies have built up their bus fleets to such a size that the number of passengers they carry per bus is barely half of what it was 20 years ago although the buses are now larger?
And how much of the congestion is due to bus-only lanes or traffic jams behind lines of buses waiting behind other buses to pull into bus stops?
Can't argue with any of that. David Webb is more concerned about the subsidy
Let's get a few facts straight. All public transport in Hong Kong is subsidised. The buses use the roads for zero incremental cost per kilometre - they pay only a nominal annual licence fee of $25 per driver seat and $50 per passenger seat, and a first registration tax of only 3.7 per cent. They are exempt from fuel duty, so they pay nothing for road usage or air pollution, which is far greater per passenger kilometre than the pollution from electricity generation for trains. Bus pollution is delivered directly to the lungs of pedestrians.
The roads occupy precious land, and are being built at public cost to overcome the congestion which Mr Savelli refers to and which buses help create. The subsidy of free roads and free air pollution allows buses to charge artificially low fares, and that means that the rail companies have to charge low fares to compete, so they get subsidies in the form of profits from underpriced development land. This is valued for land-premium purposes on the basis that the railway station next to it does not exist.
The subsidies to road and rail keep public transport costs low, which encourages people to commute further, generating more pollution, and supports the demand for, and price of, property in rural areas.
I'm not sure about the final paragraph, but I agree with the rest.