MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Deputy President, regarding the question today, discussions were held by this Council on many occasions in the past. However, the fact that a debate on the same question is proposed today reflects that the Government and some public transport operators have still failed to face up to the transport needs of people with disabilities. Nevertheless, this has given Members an opportunity to walk in other’s shoes and think about the inconveniences encountered by people with disabilities in their daily life and how we can really help this group of needy people in society.
There are many websites and forums on disabilities on the Internet, and the following was written in a forum: “The Government has been encouraging people with disabilities to venture beyond the walls of their homes to integrate into society and set their eyes on the world in order to become people with disabilities in the body but not in the heart, and people disabled yet useful …… but for us, people with impairment of the limbs, as most of us are incapacitated and have no earning power, how can we afford the high travelling expenses? Being trapped at home, our physical and emotional well-being is affected. If half-fare transport concession is provided, at least we will go out more often to ease our psychological stress, and everyone will be happier.”
Actually, in its policy on assisting people with disabilities, the Government should have put in place comprehensive and effective measures, such as developing a comprehensive transport network and formulating a comprehensive policy on public transport concession for people with disabilities, in order to help them integrate into society and enable them to enjoy equal opportunities and achieve the objective of fully participating in the community in education, work and cultural and social life as ordinary members of the public do. However, there are still many inadequacies in the Government’s effort in this regard.
The motion and the amendment moved by Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung and Mr WONG Kwok-hing respectively have put forward many proposals to make up for these inadequacies. I personally agree very much that the Government should take the lead to formulate, in a comprehensive manner, a policy on public transport concessions for people with disabilities, the chronically ill and the elderly in order to provide them with physical and psychological support in their daily life and during their rehabilitation process and help them reintegrate into society and start a new life.
Actually, insofar as many policies are concerned, the Government always focuses only on some tangible economic benefits, to the neglect of many intangible ones. For example, regarding the half-fare transport concession for people with disabilities, a reduction of only a few dollars per trip will be involved, but the social benefits arising from this amount may well exceed its face value. Indeed, it may enable people with disabilities who are in financial difficulties to enjoy fast and convenient public transport to travel to work and school and participate in social and cultural activities in places of their choice as other people do. For them, the significance cannot be measured in terms of money. For their friends and family members who have been providing continuous care for them, in particular, it may also serve as a great relief and ease their pressure.
The MTRCL has announced its introduction of half-fare concession for people with disabilities in the future, and it is estimated that 110 000 people will be benefited. However, the several bus companies have not joined this move to provide concession to people with disabilities.
A survey was conducted some time ago by the Hong Kong Joint Council for People with Disabilities and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service on the needs people with disabilities for barrier-free transport. In this survey, questionnaires were distributed to 18 rehabilitation agencies and disability self-help organizations, and 1 200 questionnaires were returned in the end. I would like to highlight the findings that the five means of public transport chosen by most respondents were, in order of preference, buses, MTR, minibuses, trains and taxis. The major reasons for them to use various means of public transport include participating in social activities, shopping, participating in cultural and recreational activities and going to work/school. Buses are the means of transport preferred by the largest number of respondents because, as Members may well understand, they provide a point-to-point service which is more convenient, and it is different from the MTR, which may sometimes require passengers to go up and down different levels.
With the various developments of the railway system and other modes of public transport, there may be changes in the behavioural pattern of people with disabilities in using public transport. Nevertheless, buses undoubtedly remain the most important mode of transport for them. For a socially responsible enterprise with vision, more profound benefits in publicity and education will be reaped by providing transport concessions to needy people than spending a few hundred thousand or even a few million dollars on publicity. Nevertheless, I also appreciate the difficulties faced by bus companies. As small sums will add up to a very large amount over a long period, it is very costly to provide half-fare concession across the board. Besides, as we all know, the bus trade is a relatively difficult business. With the competition posed by the MTR, they face many problems. Despite all these, I believe the bus companies should still examine the issue of increasing the fare concessions for people with disabilities in phases to cope with the needs of society as a whole.
Deputy President, I so submit.