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)

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!

Generalization based on the sample size of one

Posted in Hong Kong, Statistics/Econometrics, teaching, Water by kafuwong on July 21, 2015

Recently, lead in water has occupied headlines of major newspapers in Hong Kong. Experts are consulted. Some experts appeared to mis-speak carelessly. The most laughable statement was made by a medical doctor, who is a consultant of the “Hong Kong Poison Control Network”. He remarked that lead poisoning can be caused by chewing on a pencil, among many other causes. It was so laughable that it is widely circulated on the internet.

Admit it, most of us do not know why this statement is laughable. OK. It is laughable because pencils (called “lead” pen in Chinese) do not contain any lead in the writing core nowadays. Although the writing core of some early pencils were made of lead, it has since replaced by the non-toxic grahpite. (http://pencils.com/pencil-history/) And, the statement came from a consultant of the “Hong Kong Poison Control Network”.

In fact, at least supposedly so, nowadays even the paint cover of pencils should not contain lead so that most pencils are safe for chewing (not encouraged).

—–

Internet is a powerful tool. A friend appeared excited about the lead poisoning from pencil chewing story that he added a catchy title to his sharing of the news report about the doctor’s statement: “If you cannot trust doctors, who can you trust?”

It is this catchy and exaggerated statement that caught my attention. I have to admit, I like it.

Nevertheless, the statement is clearly too much a generalization based on the sample size of one. That “specific doctor” may not be trustworthy on this specific issue, but it does not mean that “specific doctor” is not trustworthy on other issues. Certainly, it does not mean that other doctors are not trustworthy.

Beware of similar generalization from a small sample of observations.

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

Are you sure what you saw was black?

Posted in Economics, Hong Kong, Information, teaching by kafuwong on October 6, 2014

Beside the extreme of white and black, there is a spectrum of grey. Given a color of grey, some might conclude it as black and some white.

It depends on the referenced color. When grey is put next to white, it looks like black. When grey is put next to black, it looks like white.

I feel that I saw black. Then, I am sure that what I saw was not white. Because, if the color were in fact white, I would not conclude black — even if the reference were white.

How can I know that the color I was is likely grey? The color was in fact grey if some of my friends and I saw black and many others saw white.

The views of others are so important! Their views provide important information for me to correct my view of black. Those who are willing to tell me their different views deserve my best respect. Thank you.

Who would rush to claim that he/she is one hundred percent sure what he/she saw was black? Those who do not know the existence of grey. Those who fail to deduce the color of grey from the conflicting views. If these two groups of people insist what they saw as the only truth, clashes may follow.

One solution is education! Education helps broaden our horizon (seeing the existence of grey) and train our critical thinking (concluding grey)!

[Fine print: Assume that all of us are telling the truth.]

Historic preservation is other people’s job

Posted in Economics, Environment, Historic Preservation, Hong Kong, teaching by kafuwong on May 17, 2014

A historic building near my workplace was being demolished to make room for a residential high rise. Some of my friends were annoyed by such development. They wanted the century old building to be preserved.

Obviously, there is a conflict in opinion of the owner and the public (my friends included) on such historic preservation issues. Lured by the hefty offer, the owner wants to sell the property to the developers. The public want the preservation. The owner would have no objection on the preservation if someone is willing to compensate him for the opportunity (of cashing in). The preservation should be done only if the total willingness to pay (from the public) for the preservation is larger than the best alternative (the value of the property. development). The big question is how much the public are willing to pay to the owner, in total.

Due to the public good nature, such decision and the finance of historic preservation often falls into the hands of the government. And, naturally, the government has to weight the conflicts.

People’s behavior is predictably rational!! If it is my property, I would like to be able to sell to the developers and pocket the money. If it is other people’s property, I would vote to force the owner to keep it as a heritage building. When we do not have to pay a cent, a lot of us will cry “preservation”. Yes! Let the government buy out the property! We tend to say we are willing to pay a lot to see the preservation.

This is a typical example of public good provision. When we do not have to pay for the public good out of our own pocket, we tend to claim we are willing to pay a lot for the public good. That is, an exaggeration of our willingness to pay in order to influence the decision of the government. If we rely on this process, we will have an “over-supply” of historic preservation. Imagine, we create a voting site for every historic preservation in question. Can you guess how many historic preservation projects will be done? In fact, almost all the time, no voting sites are created, no opinion polls are done. Often, we use the media to create a feeling that the public is willing to pay a lot for the reservation.

In the contrary, if we have to pay whatever we claim we are willing to pay, we tend to report less because one person’s understatement will unlikely change the decision of the government (that is approximately based on the total willingness to pay for the preservation and the value of development) and yet an understatement of our willingness to pay can help reduce our payment. When everyone is thinking in the same way, we will have an “under-supply” of historic preservation. Imagine, for every historic preservation in question, we can set up a donation account. Can you guess how many historic preservation projects will be done?

Like many public goods, the optimal supply of historic preservation is non-trivial. The key is to find out how much the public is willing to pay for the preservation. While it is possible to adopt some mechanism (e.g., Clarke-Groves mechanism) to induce people to truly reveal their willingness to pay, the decision of historic preservation often relies on a group of experts, and sometimes political debates.

Why do we rely on a group of experts? Because what the public say may not be as trustworthy as the impartial expert group.

[Additional reading: Handbook on the Economics of Cultural Heritage edited by Ilde Rizzo, Anna Mignosa.]

Be careful with your “title”!

Posted in China, Information, Life, Parenting, teaching by kafuwong on May 9, 2014

Saw a link in the Facebook about a page of supposedly prestigious “XYZ” university. But the title was shown as “XXX” university. If you had once been a student of the “XYZ” university, you should feel annoyed. One of my Facebook friends felt annoyed.

I joked: “Will they give a scholarship or Starbucks coupon to the first person who will write to point out the typo in “XXX University”? They should!”

After writing the joke, I couldn’t help visiting the link. I found no obvious errors on the page. In fact, I search for “XXX”, I could not find any trace of “XXX” in that page. Then, why would Facebook showed the page title as “XXX”? It turned out that the error was more fundamental than I thought. I found that Facebook used the “title” of the html page (hidden unless we pay special attention to it) as the title of the link. That is, when I viewed page source, I saw:

“XXX University” inside the html code of “title”.

If I were the administrator of the XYZ university, I would feel very embarrassed to see this error. So, I decided to send the administrator an email.

This is a laughable “hidden” error in your page of view-source: http://abcde.org/#news-students. The error shows on your facebook link. It should be “XYZ” instead of “XXX” in the “title”. Please check!

Several hours later, I got a reply from the administrator:

多谢之处。我们马上更正。

In English, “Thank you $#%. We will make correction immediately.

Although I am proficient in Chinese, that “$#% (之处)” is something I cannot make sense of. It is an obvious typo.

They made a mistake. I alerted them of the mistake. They returned with another mistake in their “thank you” email. So, it looks like “to them, making mistake is a rule rather than exception”.

Just for fun, I have just sent the administrator another email asking what he meant by “$#% (之处)”. What would you feel and say upon receiving my email — if you were the administrator?

It is education! STUPID!

Posted in China, Economic growth, Economics, Parenting, teaching by kafuwong on March 24, 2014

Nobody said it better about the Taiwanese protest about a trade pact with mainland China than one of my friends who teaches Economics in Taiwan.

Rule no. 1 of free trade: comparative advantage.

All students who have taken Economics should know this principle. The major source of gains from trade is from the specialization in the tasks that we are relatively good at – at least in the short run.

Under free trade, refusing to specialize in tasks that we have comparative in will result in lower income and living conditions. In a sense, the competition that comes with free trade will crush us.

So, how can I survive the wave of free trade? The key is in understanding our own comparative advantage.

What determines our comparative advantage in performing different tasks? At the individual level, comparative advantage is determined by our inborn talent and temper (genes?), education, training and experience. Inborn talent and temper cannot be changed. However, education, training and experience can be adjusted to change our comparative advantage. For instance, an exchange experience at a German university might improve our comparative advantage in the trading business between Hong Kong and Germany. A bachelor degree in Economics will give us a comparative advantage in working in banks.

That is, we still can choose things we like to do but we have to invest enough so that we will have comparative advantage in the things we like to do!

In the longer run, competition will force us to invest in tasks that we want to have comparative in. You invest. I invest. Then, the productivity will eventually improve. We have a better world with higher productivity and more goods to consume.
What if you are the laid-back type who has no intention to invest and improve, or change career to specialize in things you have comparative advantage in? Then, you are doom to suffer once the competition (due to free trade) arrives.

In short, if you can ride on the wave of free trade, you win. If not, you will lose.

One way or the other, Taiwan has to open itself to the rest of the world. Keeping Taiwan close is not an option. Mainland China is the best example. Much of its growth has been due to the openness to the rest of world since 1978. Ride the wave earlier, you gain more. Ride the wave later, you lose (or gain less).

Students, go back to your classrooms. Study very very hard! Make sure you will have comparative advantage in the things you like to do.

P.S.: I am more sympathetic with those older people who would have difficulty in making their adjustment. To them, government should give a helping hand.