Hong Kong’s MTR, trams and buses will be mostly free on December 19, the date of the city’s “patriots-only” legislative election, as the government tries to ensure a good turnout.
The concession was announced on Friday, nine days before the Legislative Council election which will be the first LegCo poll following a Beijing-mandated political overhaul.
The free rides will benefit passengers using most MTR lines, except for the Airport Express, most bus routes operated by Kowloon Motor Bus, New World First Bus, Citybus, Long Win Bus, and New Lantao Bus, and all tram services.
In a statement, the government said demand for public transport was expected to be higher on election day, as it was also a Sunday. More than 620 polling stations have been set up, mostly near housing estates or other residential developments.
It is unclear whether taxpayers or transport companies will foot the bill.
The restricted system decreed by Beijing sharply cuts the number of seats elected by the general public. Most pro-democracy figures are behind bars, in self-exile abroad, barred from running or have quit politics. Meanwhile, mainstream pro-democracy parties which once attracted strong support are not running candidates and officials are eager to encourage a reasonable voter turnout.
Beijing officials in Hong Kong have warned about what they see as foreign attempts to interfere with the election.
“Any foreign forces using whatever means or cover as an attempt to interfere with Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election will definitely face fightback from the Chinese government,” said the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, Liu Guangyuan, on Thursday.
It comes days after Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that a low turnout may signify support for the government.
Update 18:31: A spokesperson from the Transport and Housing Bureau told HKFP that the free ride arrangement “does not involve government subsidy,” and that franchised bus operators can make use of the balances under the “passenger reward arrangement” for providing the free-of-charge services.
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