Every morning, Cheung, 62, takes the MTR from Kowloon to Causeway Bay for work, and the cross-harbour ride costs her more than HK$10 (US$1.3).
She earns HK$50 an hour handing out fliers of restaurants among people on the streets. Cheung, who wanted to be identified only by her surname, works for several hours a day to get her "hard-earned money".
But work has become harder to come by, as the city's recession has forced many eateries out of business and surviving ones to cut budgets, she says.
For Cheung, who earns about HK$4,000 a month, every little bit counts. She looks forward to enjoying a ride for only HK$2 on the city's public transport before reaching 65, availing a new scheme proposed by the government to ease the burden on the poor and the elderly.
"It can save me hundreds of dollars a month, which I can use on household expenditure," she said.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday announced lowering of the age threshold of city residents from 65 to 60 for using public transport for just HK$2 per ride, which will cost the government about HK$1.7 billion annually.
About 600,000 Hongkongers aged between 60 and 64 will benefit from the scheme, launched in 2012 and covering MTR lines, franchised buses, ferries, and green minibuses.
The MTR's adult single-journey ticket fares range from HK$4 to HK$60.5.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said the expansion of the scheme would encourage more people aged between 60 and 64 to re-enter the workforce.
Ageing Hong Kong has seen a growing number of retired people returning to the labour market. The number of working elderly people aged between 60 and 64 has increased from 98,000 in 2008 to 259,000 in 2018, accounting for 47.3 per cent of those in the age group, according to the Census and Statistics Department.
Labour sector lawmaker Jonathan Ho Kai-ming said encouraging experienced, healthy elderly people to work could relieve some pressure of the city's labour shortage.
"Many of those turning 60 still feel able to continue working, but high transport fares may discourage them," he said.
Experts and social workers said the travel subsidy could ease some burden of those who work, and encourage more elderly people to take part in society.
Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, associate dean of the faculty of social sciences at the University of Hong Kong, said the public transport subsidy would increase the mobility of elderly people, and also indirectly give incentives to employers to hire them by reducing their operational costs.
Ng Wai-tung, community organiser of NGO Society for Community Organisation (SoCO), said many elderly people, mostly aged between 60 and 64, worked to support themselves and also to stay healthy.
"They are physically able to work, and they feel good and develop a more positive attitude towards life by working to support themselves," he said.
"But many of them take up low-paying jobs, such as those of distributing fliers, cleaning, and providing security," he said. "The expansion of the HK$2 per ride scheme will relieve them of some of their burdens."
Part-time flier distributor Ng, 61, who asked to be identified only by her surname, travels from Chai Wan on the east end of Hong Kong Island to Causeway Bay for work by the MTR. She said the new scheme would save her more than HK$10 a day.
Though she earned only a few thousand dollars a month, she said she felt bored at home, and having something to do gave her a sense of fulfilment.
"My children don't think it is good for me to work at this age, but I feel happy this way," she said. "The new scheme will help me save transport fare for four more years until I reach 65."
The report on poverty released by the government in December last year put the poverty rate among the city's working elderly at 11.9 per cent, compared to that among the non-working elderly, at 48.5 per cent, in 2018.
Employable elderly people in good health conditions staying in or re-entering the labour market could have positive effects on poverty prevention, the report said.
"Working can indeed reduce the poverty rate among the elderly," Yip, chair professor of population health at the University of Hong Kong, said. "As long as they are not forced to do so, and given choices and a good environment, there is no harm for the elderly to go back to work."
But he added that the real problem was in providing them with suitable jobs.
Ng agreed: "Many elderly people suffer from heavy physical strain due to strenuous work with little job security."
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