Monday, January 25, 2010

The wheels on the bus should go round and round

There was a story on the news this weekend, I believe it was on ATV about a proposal by the Transportation Department to eliminate many buss routes and scale back others. The putative reason for this was that buses contribute 60% of the vehicular exhaust in Hong Kong and clog traffic. This is so typical of the civil service in Hong Kong. I have come to believe that one of the requirements for a government job must be that you are a snide elitist with an IQ on par with a less intelligent breed of dog or a very smart parrot. (Actually they seem more like parrots because dogs are generally friendlier) I think I would have a hard time in Legco if I had to deal with idiots in the civil service like this everyday. I have been very critical of Legco members like Long Hair Leung who throws plastic fruit and paper microwaves at THBT but I must admit I’d probably throw punches at civil servants who made such asinine recommendations if I were a Legco member. So maybe I’ve misjudged the man.

Both of the reasons for curtailing bus routes in Hong Kong fail to stand any type of logical scrutiny. Additionally, there is, I believe another reason for this proposal that the government did not voice that amounts to a lie of omission that demonstrates the conflict of interest that the government here regularly engages in.

Problem number 1: That pesky pollution in bus exhaust.
Why not simply require the buses here to run on LP gas like the taxis? This is done in many large cities all around the world, including New York and even London where the local civil service still go to genuflect before their former colonial gods and masters. This would go probably 90% towards eliminating the exhaust fumes the transportation department is complaining about. This would be a rather easy conversion, could be subsidized by the government as is appropriate when requiring private companies to implement a radically new standard and would be applauded by the population. It would be a win, win, win scenario. It could also be done rather quickly. That this was not suggested tells me that the real reason the civil service wants to eliminate bus routes has nothing to do with pollution. I mean after all, if the government can finance a ONE-BILLION-dollar-per-kilometer high speed rail link to help us integrate with the barbarians up North then couldn’t they could pay for new, LP gas powered, buses? No, the pollution issue is a classic Red Herring because it could be better addressed by other means.

Problem 2: Traffic congestion caused by buses.
Here we come to the real issue though I believe a secondary one. If one looks at the buses in Hong Kong it is easy to see that the bus drivers help each other. They block lanes at times to allow other buses to enter and exit the stops and to merge going into and out of tunnels. This is good for the bus riders but slows down people in private cars. But let us examine this a bit further. According the figures given on the news there are 3.8 million people in Hong Kong who ride the bus at least once everyday. If you assume that those who ride the bus to work also ride it back home you can probably cut that number in ½ to 1.9 million. That is still 1 out of 4 people in Hong Kong. There are, at least I have read somewhere, less than 400000 private cars in Hong Kong or one car for about every 20 people. So, if you were going to streamline the transportation system in a city with those demographics which would you think would be of more use; one person in one car or a bus, even a bus with only 4 or 5 people in it? If you don’t think that most of the people who drive to work in Hong Kong are not driving by them self you haven’t looked, but I think you see what I mean.

Here we the real issue. Miss What-is-her-name, the nameless, faceless, mindless, soulless bureaucrat, life time civil service employee, who makes probably 18 to 20 times as much as the average wage earner in Hong Kong and never rides the bus is irritated because it takes her 5 minutes longer to get from her palatial government quarters flat to Central than if there were no buses. The poor and middle classes and even somewhat well off who have to get to work and don't drive be damned. The people who are really bothered by the congestion caused by buses are drivers of automobiles. In other words, my bus bothers her even if her car does not bother me.

Problem 3: Cutting service is effectively taxing the bus companies out of business
This was not list be the Transportation department as a reason for reducing bus frequency and raising the fares but is, I believe the real reason the government wants to implement this policy. By eliminating some routes and making other routes less frequent the transportation department’s proposal would effectively put the bus companies out of business. It is the equivalent of a tax on the bus companies because it makes it more difficult to operate and less likely that people will ride a bus. Maybe miss know-nothing bureaucrat hasn’t considered this. Maybe it never occurred to her that if I have to wait 40 minutes rather than 15 minutes for the next bus I’d maybe take the train instead. This would mind boggling dumb for even them but it is patently obvious that curtailing service is going to reduce bus ridership will then result in even more cuts in service by the bus companies.

It would be worse if she did realize that and I cannot believe that the snobs and elitist in the civil service are really this stupid. Even parrots should be able to figure this one out. Therefore, I am going to say that this is worse. It is a deliberate, if rather clumsy and transparent attempt by the government to put the bus companies out of business without saying so. The reason the government would consider this is that government does not OWN the bus companies but does own a controlling interest in the MTR. Thus, this proposal could and SHOULD be seen as an attempt by the government to increase the revenues of the trains which it owns at the expense of the bus companies which it does not.

It gets yet even worse. There are a couple of MTR lines that lose money. The Airport Express and the Disney Land line are unprofitable. The new high speed rail link being built at the cost of ONE-BILLION-dollars-per-kilometer will also probably never pay for itself, at least not in the lifetime of anybody living in Hong Kong today. What if the Transportation department has looked at the figures and said: “Aye-ya, the MTR is going broke unless we find a way to get more people to ride because we’ve built too many unprofitable lines.” What if putting bus companies out business is a way to save their sorry, under worked butts so that they can keep their cushy, over paid jobs lording it over people who are more productive, smarter and better looking than they are?

I admit, this is a soapbox issue with me. If I ride the train from Causeway Bay where I live to Ma On Shan where I work everyday I have to change trains four times and it takes an hour and five minutes. If I ride the 680 bus it takes 30 minutes and I ride more or less door to door. The MTR is not appropriate or convenient for everybody.

I think this proposal is simply one of the worst I’ve ever seen the Hong Kong government make.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The blogger who rides the bus everyday, twice

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