【明報專訊】The MTR's Tuen Ma Line (TML) has operated smoothly in general since its full opening. The most bizarre part throughout has been the arrangement of ''higher fares for shorter travels'' on some sections of the line. However, neither the MTR nor the government has shown any visible eagerness to solve this problem. As the biggest shareholder in the MTR company, the government has its public transport policy slanted towards the rail operator, while the MTR has always put the interests of small shareholders first when making decisions. ''Higher fares for shorter travels'' on some sections of the TML are a result of lower fares on the East Rail Line (ERL) than the West Rail Line (WRL) fares. The MTR company, shielded by the Fare Adjustment Mechanism (FAM) (i.e. the mechanism that provides for upward and downward fare adjustments), has ruled out the possibility of a major fare reduction. Instead, it has opted for giving seven or eight years for the ERL to increase fares gradually so as to narrow the fare disparity. This is pure business logic rather than giving priority to social responsibility. Next year the government will review the FAM with the rail operator, and it must be determined to demand the MTR shoulder more social responsibility and reform the FAM boldly.
Serving 27 stations, the TML connects the ERL, the WRL, the Ma On Shan Rail and the Kwun Tong Line, making it the longest rail line in Hong Kong. The problem of ''higher fares for shorter travels'' generally involves interchange stations. Take the example of Hung Hom Station. One has to pay a nearly 50% higher fare for travelling from there to Hin Keng than to Tai Wai, which is actually one more station away. What is more, some sections of the line cover the same number of stations and similar distances but are charged very differently. Ho Man Tin and Kwun Tong are both four stations away from Diamond Hill. But a journey from Diamond Hill to Ho Man Tin is 50% more expensive than to Kwun Tong.
The MTR and government officials have given the same explanation — the situation of higher fares for shorter travels on the TML stems from a ''historical problem'', namely the disparity between the fare systems of the WRL and the ERL. ERL fares have long been lower than the fares of other lines. A follow-up, as suggested by the authorities, can be done by dealing with the problem gradually by means of future fare adjustment mechanisms. To put it plainly, the authorities have no plans of solving the problem in the short or medium term.
The so-called FAM was put in place by the government and the MTR company after the MTR-KCR merger in 2007. Under the mechanism, the fare adjustment rate is derived every year from a formula that takes into account the changes in figures like the inflation rate and the nominal wage index for transportation. At the same time, the MTR enjoys the additional flexibility of increasing or decreasing the ticket fare for a certain ride by 5%. In a nutshell, when the MTR and the government speak of ''dealing gradually'' with the problem of higher fares for shorter travels, what they mean is to make use of such ''flexibility'' and narrow down the fare disparity step by step by adjusting the fares of some sections of the line every year. When the WRL was extended to Hung Hom in 2009, the condition of higher fares for shorter travels also existed. It took six years of ''flexible'' handling to fix the problem by and large. As for the situation faced by the TML now, the modification process may take a decade or so.
From users' perspective, a fare structure that charges more for shorter travels is in itself an illogical and unreasonable arrangement that should not be maintained in the long run. The so-called ''historical problem'' is only an excuse for the inaction of the authorities. The MTR and the government should consider more from the users' perspective and think clearly about a reasonable way of fixing the problem.
明報社評 2021.06.29：屯馬線短貴長平 政府被動乏作為
■/ Glossary 生字 /
slanted (towards sb/sth) /ˈslɑːntɪd/
tending to be in favour of one person or thing in a way that may be unfair to others
shoulder：to take on (a burden or responsibility)
by and large：used when you are saying sth that is generally, but not completely, true