The diversity of Hong Kong’s transport network
Hong Kongers consider themselves a happy people! They enjoy the highest life expectancy of any country in the world and their city ranks first as to quality of life. Not surprisingly, that they have one of the most efficient and let’s say sophisticated systems of transport. While most other Asian super-sized mega-cities groan under a choking load of public and individual traffic, Hong Kong seems to be coping well, despite its mobility-unfriendly circumstances.
The area is hilly, often mountainous, enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and the South China Sea and, to boot, split up into 200 offshore islands. Home to 7 million people and under persistent population pressure, Hong Kong still is the central hub for business and finances in East Asia. Therefore, business mobility is a vital asset of the city, which actually prides itself on a public transport travelling rate exceeding 90 percent, with over 2.3 million passengers daily the highest in the world. How do they manage?
Ingeniously, Hong Kong has used all its technolocial and geographical potential to enhance mobility: for almost ten years now, trains, metros, trams, buses, minibuses, cablecars, escalators and ferries are interconnected into one system! It allows you to hop onto any means of traffic and pay by Octopus card, the world's first contactless smart debit card. It’s easy to handle, you just slip the card through a machine on entering and alighting and the correct sum will be deducted. That’s the card used by almost all Hong Kong residents and visitors alike, which, in a way, symbolizes the success of the city’s means of mobility. The trains of the award-winning MTR network (Mass Transit Rail), a combination of underground and suburban rail, are supermodern, fast, clean, cool, safe and run every 2 to 4 minutes sharp, from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.. Being the crown jewel of Hong Kong's traffic networks MTR convey the lion share of commuters with average commutes of 30 minutes and definitely are the envy of many western city administrations. While the underground trains of this highly advanced means of transport are dashing at a high speed below the surface, its technological ancestor above, the city tram, is creeping along at a slow pace but low price. For business mobility Hong Kong trams are too slow and not air-conditioned, for tourists, however, the double-deckers are wonderful for sightseeing and even window shopping. This also applies to buses, of course, sluggishly moving stop-and-go during traffic peak times from north to south of Hong Kong island. Another singular means of mobility is the Mid-Levels Escalator, the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. It operates downhill until 10 a.m. for commuters going to work, and uphill until midnight. Slow but romantic! For commuters from the outlying islands ferries of all types are something like a gift of God. Early every morning, the Star Ferry from Lantau Island, home of the international airport and of many expats, carries a lot of elegantly dressed professionals into Hong Kong island Terminal. When they disembark they once again have revelled in one of the most stunning coastline views, making them almost hover to their desks. On their return passage home, they are able to enjoy the comfortable seats in the air conditioned atmosphere.
The ferries are luxurious having a break only from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. and when there is a force 8 typhoon warning! The wooden ferries, however, from the old days, when the British ran the island, only operate between Central and Kowloon. They are mostly used by tourists and some dawdling business people. For those flying in from abroad and in a hurry there is the Express Train from the airport or, of course, an ample choice of taxis and limousines. To top it all, the Solar Albatross has been carrying passengers since 2010, silently and cleanly, across the muddy waters of Hong Kong’s huge harbour, and on its roof top, it has solar panels. It is a fantastic idea that Hong Kong’s new administration has been advocating to make the former name of the harbour come true again: Fragrance Harbour! For the same reason, “Hong Kong’s iconic Star Ferry, which has been shuttling across Victoria Harbour since 1880” is also planning to use solar-sail technology in one or two of their vessels.