....... Divertimento: A vote for public transport in Hong Kong

Thursday, 2 June 2011

A vote for public transport in Hong Kong

Having used public transport in a number of countries, I can certainly vouch for the fact that Hong Kong’s public transport system stands out as being comprehensive, reliable, clean and affordable. Public transport has been a part of Hong Kong’s history and development for more than 100 years. Annually, public transport accounts for an impressive 90% of all passenger trips, making it the highest in the world.

Established in 1904, the Hong Kong Tramways operates 6 tram routes running east-west along the northern section of Hong Kong Island, between Shau Kei Wan and Kennedy Town. The fare is a flat fee of $2 per trip ($1 seniors and children) and the service runs every day from 6 am to midnight. During peak times a tramcar departs every 1.5 minutes on average. There are 118 tram stops along the 30 km route and the service carries 230,000 passengers every day.

No trip to Hong Kong is complete without a trip up to Victoria Peak and there is no better way to get there than by the Peak Tram 山頂纜車歷. Started in 1888 for the exclusive use of the British Governor and residents at the Peak, it remains to this day the steepest funicular railway in the world. The 8 minute trip connects the Peak with the Lower Peak Tram terminus at Garden Road in Central.

Another public transport service that has become a Hong Kong icon is the Star Ferry 天星小輪 (established 1880) which connects Kowloon with Hong Kong Island. The Tsim Sha Tsui to Central service runs every 6-12 minutes and the 9 minute trip costs $2 (lower deck) on weekdays. Other ferry services run from Central Ferry Pier to the main outlying islands of Peng Chau, Cheung Chau, Lamma and Lantau.

By the 1920s, there were already several bus routes running in Hong Kong and Kowloon. Today, the franchised bus services and mini buses together account for about 50% of passenger trips. Most are air conditioned. There are approximately 18,000 taxis in Hong Kong carrying an average of 1 million passengers each day ie 12%of passenger trips.

Since the merger with KCRC in 2007, the Hong Kong MTR Corporation Limited 香港鐵路有限公司 now runs the entire railway system in Hong Kong. Railway is indeed the backbone of Hong Kong’s public transport system. Carrying about 37% of all public transport passenger trips (an average of 4 million passengers every weekday), it is no wonder that MTR was awarded the “Best Public Transport Advocacy Award” in the Asia Pacific Region by The International Association of Public Transport in April. The importance of railways as a means of transport is set to grow with 5 extension lines in the pipeline – West Island Line, South Island Line, Sha Tin to Central Link, Kwun Tong Line Extension and the Guangzhou-Shenzen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XLR).

If you are one of those who still travels by private cars, do consider whether you could use the public transport system a little more. Whilst this will not totally solve Hong Kong's air pollution problem, it will at least be one positive step you could take to help.

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