Rising school bus fees hurt families

Rising school bus fees hurt families

Shenzhen families who send their children to Hong Kong schools are suffering most, as costs rise and school bus operators prefer to sell their licences for a tidy sum to tourist bus companies

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Rising bus fees have become a headache for families living in Shenzhen who rely on the buses to take their children to school.
Rising bus fees have become a headache for families living in Shenzhen who rely on the buses to take their children to school.
Photo: Edward Wong/SCMP

The decision to shrink class sizes in local primary schools has won praise from teachers and parents, but it comes at a cost - taking a school bus has become a lot more expensive.

Rising bus fees have become a headache for many parents in recent years, especially for families living in Shenzhen who rely on the buses to take their children to school.

The Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers surveyed 234 schools in May and found that bus fees had increased by an average of 15 per cent in the past year.

"The situation is worst in the Northern District, which has the most cross-border students," says federation vice-chairman Wong Wai-shing. "There are schools in the district that saw a 38 per cent rise in fees from HK$1,300 a month last term to HK$1,800 a month this term."

With smaller classes, fewer students are taking the bus, so operators have to charge a higher fee. "There used to be more than 30 students in a class. Now there are only around 20, so with fewer students, the bus companies need to charge more," says Wong.

Another factor, the federation says, is that more buses are being used to transport the booming number of tourists from the mainland. It is urging the government to review the licensing system for non-franchised buses (those that serve students, tourists and hotels).

"The government had stopped issuing licences for non-franchised buses in 2003," Wong says. "I think it is time they consider issuing them again because the demand for buses has grown. With the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, the demand for buses is expected to increase further."

Since no new non-franchised bus licences were issued in the past decade, school bus operators have been tempted to sell their licences to tour coach companies. "The price of licences for non-franchised buses has increased from about HK$2 million three years ago to HK$3.8 million now," Wong says.

Chan Siu-hung, chairman of the North District Primary School Heads Association, said he hadn't noticed a shortage of school buses in the region yet, but many parents had told him about the steep price increase. "We've talked to the bus companies, but they just say they have to increase their prices because of rising costs," he says.

Schools really can't do anything to bring down the prices, according to Chan. "The school collects information from operators such as the routes and prices, and it informs the parents about it. But it's up to the parents to choose," he says.

Referring to the shortage of school buses in Hong Kong, Chan says competition from tourist bus companies is a key factor.

"I know some school bus owners chose to sell their buses to tourist bus companies," he says.

"A school bus licence is worth millions of dollars now, and that's good enough for the school bus owners to lead a comfortable life in retirement."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Taken for a ride?

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