Random thoughts of an economist

香港什麼時候可以追上歐盟對航班乘客的保障?

Posted in Economics, teaching, Travel by kafuwong on August 7, 2017

 

兩個月前,和家人去了捷克布拉格旅遊。坐的是奧地利航空 (Austrian Airlines)。去程在奧地利的維也納 (Vienna) 轉駁到布拉格。整個旅途十分愉快。就是回程時有一個小插曲。

回程當日,於航班起飛前兩小時便到了布拉格機場辦理登機手續。辦理登機手續和安檢都十分順利。找到航班閘口,便在附近流連等上機。誰知先是宣布航班改登機閘口,接著是航班延誤,最後竟是因機件故障將航班取消。家人於是和航空公司了解情況,並極力爭取適當的安排和賠償。結果,航空公司安排我們坐另一航空公司,轉飛德國的慕尼黑,然後轉駁回港。

轉航班的事安頓後,我便發信息給布拉格的老友,報告情況。老友提示,歐盟在航空延誤有清楚的條例規管,包括對於航班延誤的賠償方案。

的確,根據歐洲法律 (Regulation (EC) 261/2004),如果您的航班延誤至少三個小時或取消,您有權獲得賠償。當然有例外。如果延誤的原因是航空公司無法控制的,譬如惡劣的天氣或機組人員罷工等非常情況,航空公司就不需要為此作出賠償。

不要以為此法例只適用於歐盟的航空公司。原來,所有從歐盟機場起飛的航班(不管是那一家航空公司),和抵達歐盟機場並由歐盟航空公司經營的航班,都是受規管的。即是說,就是在中國註冊的航空公司從布拉格直航到北京的航班也要遵守這個條例。

要注意,航班要延誤到達您的目的地最少超過三個小時,你才附合資格獲得賠償;還有,賠償額與延誤時間和飛行距離是掛鈎的。下表總結了這個關係。譬如說,如果飛行距離不超過1500公里,延誤多於三個小時,賠償額是250歐元(以現在1歐元兌9.21 港幣計算,約2300港幣)。

延誤時數 飛行距離 賠償額



三個小時以上 1500公里以下 250歐元
1500 到3500 公里之間 400歐元
1500公里以上,歐盟與歐盟機場之間的航班 400歐元
三到四小時 3500公里以上,歐盟與非歐盟機場之間的航班 300歐元
四個小時以上 3500公里以上,歐盟與非歐盟機場之間的航班 600歐元



我們從捷克布拉格回到香港,足足比原定抵港時間延遲了五個多小時,飛行距離肯定超過3500公里。回到家,我輕易的在網上找來一封申索賠償的樣本信,補上我們航班和個人資料,透過航空公司的投訴網頁發給航空公司。隨後三個星期與航空公司跟進了兩個電郵,每人5340港幣(600歐元以當時兌換價折算所得)就存到我們的銀行戶口。(注意,除非乘客是兒童,否則航空公司只會把賠償金存到與接受賠償人客同名的銀行戶口。)

歐盟對飛機乘客有如此保障,逼使航空公司盡量避免延誤。那香港呢?網上搜查,發現2012年,謝偉俊議員曾經在立法會就航班延誤的賠償安排發問。當日官員的答案是這樣的:『一般而言,航空公司會按照其商業考慮及既定程序,作出賠償或其他補償安排。據了解,國泰航空公司有內部指引處理航班服務受阻時的跟進,盡量減低對乘客構成的不便。一般而言,該公司會根據每宗事故的情況,例如延誤的時間長短和原因,作出安排。同時,航空公司亦會考慮個別乘客的情況或需要而決定跟進工作,包括提供酒店住宿、安排轉乘其他航空公司的航班,以及在特殊情況下,給予乘客應急津貼。』簡單而言,就是政府沒有規管航班延誤的賠償問題。2015年,消費者委員會的《選擇》月刊461 期 (2015年3月) 在標題為『認識廉航收費模式免招損失』的文章比較了廉航在航班延誤提供的補償方案,竟然有航空公司沒有遵守《蒙特利爾公約》,給予受影響的乘客任何賠償。實在令人震驚!

飛機已經成為香港人的重要交通工具之一。香港是亞洲區重要的航空樞紐。要保持這個航空樞紐的地位,準確的航班時間尤為重要。航班延誤也實在對乘客帶來不便和困擾。對延誤作出賠償實在是合理不過。

我希望香港能效法歐盟,訂立對飛機乘客清晰統一和合理的最低航班延誤的賠償額以及各種對乘客的保障。個別的航空公司當然可以在這個最低保障之上稍作調整。立法需時。在訂立相關法例之前,我盼望政府至少應該有系統地向公眾提供有關資訊,方便乘客查閱和在需要時追討賠償。

參考資料:

  1. “How to claim flight delay or cancellation compensation – and the circumstances in which you qualify”

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/holidays/article-2271213/How-claim-EU-flight-delay-compensation-EC-261-2004.html

  1. 『廉航投訴飈140% 有票不保證上機, 延誤取消乘客自理 致電索償先付百元』

http://paper.hket.com/article/566498/%E5%BB%89%E8%88%AA%E6%8A%95%E8%A8%B4%E9%A3%88140-%20%E6%9C%89%E7%A5%A8%E4%B8%8D%E4%BF%9D%E8%AD%89%E4%B8%8A%E6%A9%9F?section=005

  1. 『9 間廉航 延誤安排及賠償表一覽』

http://travel.ulifestyle.com.hk/DetailNews.php?id=ADsRYhEqA3IMIg&p=1

  1. 『認識廉航收費模式免招損失』《選擇》月刊461 期(2015年3月)
  2. 『立法會十一題:航班延誤的賠償安排』(2012年2月15日)http://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/201202/15/P201202150160.htm

(文章曾在《眾新聞》發佈,日期: 07.08.17)

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以獲得器官捐贈的優先權做誘因

Posted in Economics, Hong Kong, teaching by kafuwong on August 6, 2017

等待器官續命或改善生活素質的病人有增無減。每隔一段時,新聞報導又傳來某某年輕病人因等不到器官捐贈而去世的消息。聞之傷心。那些沒有受廣泛報導,器官衰歇,每天在依賴藥物和機器維持生活素質的病人相信為數不少。

成功移植器官,除了可續命,提高病人生活素質外,也會大大的減低醫療系統的負擔。移植器官的技術已經成熟, 缺的就是器官。

在類似香港的自由經濟體系,解決器官供求問題,自願性是必要條件。在這個自願性的前提下,器官市場是最直觀的解決方案。價格可起鼓勵供應的作用。讓價格自由浮動,理論上價格會調到供求平衡為止(供過於求,價格會下降;求過於供,價格會上調)。伊朗就是一個成功的例子(聽說伊朗的活腎的供應是不缺的)。為什麼伊朗那麼成功,其他自由經濟體系就沒有採用類似方案呢?恐怕是牽涉到各種的道德、公平性和政治的考慮。

排除器官市場,供應就要靠捐贈了。活人器官捐贈是有的,但因為器官捐贈對活人捐贈者的身心健康有可能做成長遠負面影響,活人器官捐贈是少得可憐。有的話,基本上都是來自親人(零星的例外當然是有的。)

剩下的就是死人器官捐贈 。在這方面,政府是不遺餘力的。雖然在政府大力鼓勵下,同意於死後把器官捐出者的數字確實增加不少。可是實際成功的捐贈個案還是少得可憐。癥結是,同意於死後捐贈器官者的遺屬不同意。現時器官捐贈要先得到死者死前的同意,還有遺屬於死者死後的同意。一部分遺屬思想傳統,要堅持保留死者全屍。另一部分遺屬在哀傷之際沒有心情去處理一個和自己利益沒直接關聯的議題。要得到遺屬的同意確實有困難。這就是為什麼政府努力推動器官捐贈多年,進展卻不大的原因。

對症下藥之策是把是否同意捐贈死者器官的決定和死者親屬的利益連成一線。我建議政府制定政策,給捐贈器官的直系親屬一個他日獲得器官捐贈的優先權。因為把關捐贈器官決定的一般都是死者的直系親屬,我們針對直系親屬便足夠了。

優先權是一個保障,是一個不牽涉金錢的誘因。不牽涉金錢就避免了像器官市場的道德爭議。捐贈器官這回事就好像死者於死後送一份禮物給直系親屬一樣。沒有類似器官市場的只有富者才得到器官移植機會的不公平性。

至於實際如何定優先權,我建議是在現有的器官輪候冊的計分制度裡,為器官捐贈者的直系親屬額外加分。至於加多少分,如何管理等等,就要另外找專家研究提案了。

總的來說,有了這個誘因,遺屬就更傾向同意捐出死者的器官。實際上,有了這個誘因,會有更多人願意死後捐出器官。一個誘因誘發兩個同向的決定,樽頸鬆綁,供移植的器官就有望大幅增加了。

以上的建議理論上簡單易行,不牽涉額外資源,爭議性估計不大,希望政府認真考慮一下。

(文章曾在《眾新聞》發佈,日期: 19.04.17)

Need some incense, sir?

Posted in Economics by kafuwong on January 10, 2017

Stepping out of Wong Tai Sin MTR station towards the Wong Tai Sin Temple, you will see a line of four persons trying to sell incense to tourists.  If you are like most tourists, you will walk pass them and go to the point of interest – the Temple.

Unlike most tourists, I was not in a hurry.  In my recent visit, I paused to observe how they did business.  Initially, I wanted to know how often they were successful selling incense and the characteristics of the sellers who were more able to persuade.  Yes, there was a person with only one hand.  I would assume that more people would buy from him.  Nonetheless, I did not stay long enough to see any successful sales.

Initially, I thought the four persons would compete against each other for business.  To my surprise, they did not circle the potential customers at the same time to compete for business.  Instead, they took turns.  They organized themselves in a line.  The one in the front would approach the passer-by.  After the attempt, success or not, he/she would move to the end of the line.

The business appeared organized.  The obvious advantage of such arrangement is to avoid vicious competition and potential conflicts among the salespersons. That all salespersons circling the potential customers at the same time to compete for business can be understood as an outcome of non-cooperation, an inferior outcome.  That all salespersons lining up to approach potential customers one by one can be understood as an outcome of cooperation, a superior outcome.

What caused the cooperation?  Economists have studied repeated games and found that cooperation (which yield better outcome) is more likely in “infinitely” repeated games.

Now, think about the several local dominant players in specific sectors.  Have you ever wonder why they appear cooperative?

Are you well educated enough?

Posted in Democracy, Economics, Information by kafuwong on November 5, 2016

Saw a line from the Economist about elections in democratic countries like the United States.  

We are not educated well enough to perform the necessary act of intelligently selecting our leaders.

When the election result is not to our liking, it is easy for us to BLAME THE OTHER voters that they are not educated well enough.  Wait a minute.  Is it so easy to be educated well enough?

Show me an orange and an apple. I can make a choice between the two. I can do so by look at their shape, size, color and smell.  That used to be a simple choice in the old days.  I might make a wrong selection occasionally but I will learn from my mistakes over time.  

But, nowadays, if it is known that most people chooses orange (or, are predicted to choose orange), the apple owner may decorate the apple so that it is more appealing to the consumers. By changing the shape, size, color and smell, say.  When most people now choose apple, the orange owner may decorate the orange so that it is more appealing to the consumers.

The competition can continue. More decoration techniques are invented to FOOL the consumers. The consumers are however ultimately interested in the taste of apples and orange. Fooled by the decoration, we as consumers may end up buying a bad apple.

To be a wise consumer, we need to understand the tricks of the decoration and thus be able to uncover the real thing.

And, that is not easy!  Certainly very costly!

My dear books, good bye.

Posted in Economics, Life, Uncategorized by kafuwong on July 21, 2016

As I prepared my departure from HKU, I started to sort out things that I wanted to take home, and what to discard.

As I did not have to pay for the usage of my office space, I had kept a lot things that I had rarely touched.

Now, leaving HKU means that the usage of space at home to keep these stuff will become costly.  Like most people living in Hong Kong, I cannot afford to keep everything I have accumulated during my 14 years at HKU.  

I asked myself repeatedly, “Is there anything I cannot live without?”  “Is there anything I will likely use in the near future?”   Most of the stuff in my office do not pass these tests.

Mostly books, I decided to give away.  There are a lot of books that have sat on my shelf for a long long time and had rarely been referred to.  Time to say good bye to them.

Now, in retrospect, I should give them out long long time ago.

A thought on how to evaluate whether education expansion helps improve mobility.

Posted in Econometrics, Economics, Hong Kong, Statistics/Econometrics, teaching by kafuwong on September 11, 2015

We often see reports comparing the median income of university graduates over time. The sad news is that the median income of university graduates are often found declining over time. One common conclusion is that the expansion of university education has not helped improve social mobility. And, university graduates seem to be doing worse than before.

While median income is easier to compute, I do not think it is the right measure to address the question of social mobility, or how university graduates nowadays fare when compared to the previous cohorts. A correct measure is some form of median income with an control of the expansion of university education.

Imagine the following hypothetical situations. Suppose that we have a stable population structure. Suppose 20 percent of high school graduates can attend university ten years ago. Imagine we end up with 20 persons achieving high school level and 5 persons achieving university level. The median income of high school graduates was X1 and that of university graduates is Y1. Y1 is usually higher than X1, reflecting the difference in ability of the two groups and added value of education.

For the sake of illustration below, let’s assume that the 5 university graduates have incomes of 12100, 12200, 12300, 12400, 12500. Obviously the median income is 12300. That is, Y1=12300. Let’s further assume that the top 5 earners of high school graduates earn 8100, 8200, 8300, 8400, and 8500 respectively.

Today, due to the expansion of higher education, 40 percent of high school graduates can attend university. Following from the example above, we end up with 15 persons achieving high school level and 10 persons achieving university level. Suppose then the 10 university graduates have incomes of 11100, 11200, 11300, 11400, 11500, 12100, 12200, 12300, 12400, 12500. Let’s denote the median income of high school graduates as X2 and that of university graduates as Y2. Note that the median income X2 is based on a smaller group size while that of Y2 is based on a larger group size. We can easily imagine that X2 will be lower than X1 because we can imagine that the top five earners (“more able”?) were removed from the original high school group and put into the university group. And Y2 will be lower than Y1 because the university group includes the “less able” ones.

Thus, if we compare the change of median income by education groups, we are bound to see a deterioration in income in BOTH GROUPS. Some would conclude that education expansion is bad.

Wait a minute. Obviously, the five persons who achieved university level because of the education expansion achieve a higher income. (11100, 11200, 11300, 11400, 11500) versus (8100 8200 8300 8400 8500). A substantial improvement in social mobility (as measured by income) due to the education expansion, isn’t it?

That is, we are evaluating whether education expansion is useful, we should focus on these 5 persons who had not the chance to study university but now have the chance to do so.

If we still insist on using measures similar to median income of the university graduates across time to conclude whether university graduates are doing worse than better, we need to make an adjustment. From the example above, we probably should compare the top 25 percentile income level today to the median income 10 years ago!

Repairmen needed to give electrical pencil sharpeners a second life

Posted in Economics, Environment, Hong Kong, Parenting by kafuwong on July 16, 2015

A year ago, the ten-year-old electric pencil sharpener in our office began to fail. It was one of those better electric pencil sharpeners and could stopped automatically on sharpened pencils. Our office had no choice but to dispose the old one and to buy a new one of the same model. I took the old one home to let my son play with it.

The new one malfunctioned within days. As it was under warranty, the office then got a replacement. The newly replaced one worked but lacked the function of automatically stopping on sharpened pencils. My colleagues called the company for a repair. The salesperson said the new one did not have this function of automatic stopping and refused to send anyone to repair it. (Bad salesmanship, and lies as well!) After a year, it failed. Now, as it was no longer under warranty, the office decided to discard it. Again, I took it home to let my son play with it.

Were we successful in resurrecting the two pencil sharpeners? To my colleague’s surprise, we did. (I said “we” because I made substantial contribution.) On the ten-year-old pencil sharpener, we discovered that it just needed some oil — it took us a long time to discover. After applying some oil, it worked like new.

One the one-year-old, the major problem was a mis-alignment of a switch. Not only that we brought it back to life successfully, we also fixed the function of automatically stopping on sharpened pencils.

No, I am not trying to brag about how good we are in repairing the machine.

Here is my observation: Many years ago (when I was younger), a lot of broken electrical appliances were repaired and used for a long period of time. Now, most broken electrical appliances are thrown away. The natural question is WHY!

I think the answer lies in the cost of purchasing new electrical appliances and the labor cost of repairment. The labor cost has gone up substantially in Hong Kong. The cost of buying new electrical appliances is low. When the cost of repairment is higher than the cost of buying new electrical appliances, the decision is not to repair. As more people make similar decisions of not to repair their broken electrical appliances, more broken electrical appliances will end up at landfills.

How to reduce the amount of broken electrical appliances in landfills? We need more rag-and-bone men and repairmen.

Anyone interested in joining me to collect and repair broken electrical pencil sharpeners?

Why were there no toilet papers in the public washrooms in the old days?

Posted in China, Economics, Parenting by kafuwong on May 8, 2015

Most readers are astonished: Most of the “wind chimes” hanging on trees for a “Wind Chimes Festival” in China were stolen by tourists/visitors!

Tourists should not have stolen the wind chimes, should they? It is not ethical to take the wind chimes that is not yours.

On the other hand, shouldn’t the officials organizing the festival have predicted the stealing to happen? Not many years ago, Hong Kong provided no toilet papers in the public washrooms. Simply because the whole roll of toilet papers would be taken away as soon as it was installed. Anticipating this outcome, the government officials decided not to supply toilet papers in public washrooms (or at least not to replenish).

Why would Hong Kong people not remove the whole roll of toilet paper from public washrooms nowadays? Hong Kong people has become more ethical? Was there a campaign to teach Hong Kong people to be more ethical, and not to remove the whole roll of toilet paper from public toilet?

Yes, it is possible that Hong Kong people have been educated to become more ethical. On that, I am not so sure. I think the more important reason is that Hong Kong people has become richer. A roll of toilet paper is nothing when compared to their income/wealth. That is, richer people tend not to steal things like the toilet paper. (They may steal things that are of bigger value relative to their income/wealth.)

Thus, if the “wind chimes” is cheap relative to the tourist income/wealth, we would expect the wind chimes to stay on trees for a while. If the “wind chimes” is expensive (say gold wind chimes) relative to the tourist income/wealth, we would expect the wind chimes on trees to be gone in no time.

The redemption rate of cake coupons

Posted in Economics, Hong Kong, Information, teaching by kafuwong on February 16, 2015

A friend was trying to redeem his cake coupon from a chain bakery. His coupon was two days from expiry. If he had not done it in time, the chain bakery will gain.

Hm… What is the redemption rate of cake coupons? That is, how much do the chain bakery gain per year due to people’s failure to redeem their coupons?

I do not have the numbers. Nonetheless, here is a thought experiment.

Imagine that 40% of the cake coupons are not redeemed. Shop A is willing to sell the coupons at 60% of the nominal value. Of course, shop A will try to sell the coupons at the nominal as much as it can. Selling at full nominal value will ensure a gain of 40 dollar gain per 100 value of coupon. This is good money.

The problem is that shop A is not alone. Likely, shop B also sells similar coupons. If shop A is selling at full nominal value, shop B can steal shop A’s customers by selling the coupons at a small discount, say 5%. If information is perfect, all customers will buy the coupons from B. But, A is not stupid. Seeing the loss of customers, it will try to steal shop A’s customers by selling the coupons at a bigger discount, say 10%. …. We can easily see that this competition game will continue until both shops will be selling near at 40% discount. We see the power of competition.

Now, how do we get an estimate of the redemption rate? Easy. We go to shop A, tell them that we are going to get marry and are planning to buy a lot of cake coupons, and ask them the discount we can get. Do the same to shop B, just to double check. That “1-discount” will be close to the redemption rate.

Does it look suspicious to you? Check please!

Posted in Economics, Information, Leisure, teaching by kafuwong on October 9, 2014

A friend sent me a striking table of “actuarial study of life span vs. age at retirement”. The table shows a person who retires at age 49.9 will die at 86 on average, and a person who retires at age 65.2 will live to 66.8 on average. The data suggests that I should consider retiring early.

Wait a minute! A person who retires at age 65.2 will live to 66.8 on average? It is absolutely not consistent with my casual observations.

I could not help doing a quick search of “actuarial study of life span vs. age at retirement” (without the quotation marks, of course). Surprisingly, I found that the table was founded based on a real study –- a Boeing study done almost 30 years ago. The study has been circulated in the internet for many years and finally reached me. Lucky me!

Interestingly, Boeing has tried to tell the public that the chart or table was wrong. According to Boeing, there is simply no correlation between age at retirement and life expectancy of Boeing retirees.

Why are such rumors still around? I think it is because most users in the internet are not willing to spend much time questioning and verifying the accuracy of the information. Spreading some seemingly striking news/information attracts attention. Most of us feel happier with more attention from our friends. There is a cost of verifying the accuracy of the information, though. Such comparison of COST and BENEFIT dictates our decision whether to spread the rumors, though implicitly.

Spreading news/information is understandably more costly to people with good reputation of providing accurate information. Thus, one would expect reputable reporters less likely to spread news/information without careful verification. That tells us where to turn if we want accurate information and where to turn if we want some rumors to enjoy.

I do not like this kind of rumors. I try not to spread suspicious items. At the same time, though, I do like to test my ability in catching such problematic information and verifying them. It has become one of my major pastime. LOL.

Additional readings:
http://www.boeing.com/companyoffices/empinfo/benefits/pension/seminars/Rumor.pdf
http://www.intmath.com/blog/retiring-early-means-a-longer-life-an-urban-myth/822
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-18952037