Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hail to the Hong Kong trams -- and a pox on those who advocated their removal from Central!

Imagining Hong Kong without trams would be like
imagining it without dragon (and lion) dances to me...

...and, in particular, a tram-less Central would mean
the area having significantly less (local) color than now

It's not often that I feel a need to comment on this blog about Hong Kong news subjects but recent reports that a consulting firm headed by a former senior government town planner has proposed the removal of trams from Central really has me feeling upset and angry -- not just because that consulting firm is actually being paid to issue such stupid suggestions but, also, because the government of 689 may well go ahead and implement them!  

In a world where climate change and global warming is being increasingly recognized as real and affected by such as the number of oil-guzzling vehicles on the road, we should be planning for -- if not already living in -- a world where more people use public transportation that carries a lot of people and fewer folks go about in private cars (and, also, taxis) which often have just one or two individuals in each of them.  

Before I moved to Hong Kong, I already was a fan of its public transportation system.  What I've noticed with some consternation in recent years though is an increase in the number of private cars on the road; this even though few people in Hong Kong actually have the money to not only own a car but also do such as pay for the parking spaces it occupies, its fuel and insurance, and maybe even fewer Hong Kongers actually have a driving license and know how to drive!  In addition, because of such as the high numbers of tourists coming over to Hong Kong (who make use of the public transportation -- particularly the MTR and tram -- while here), the MTR carriages and the likes have been getting noticeably more and more uncomfortably crowded.

So rather than argue (like the Intellects Consultancy folks have done) that the extension of the MTR Island Line to Kennedy Town in recent months means that there's less need for the trams (which, for a long time, were the favored mode of transportation to the western part of Hong Kong Island), I'd counter-suggest that the authorities should be looking to make sure that there remain ample public transportation options -- and seats on them -- for people.

With special regards to that which are popularly known as ding ding (for the sound that their bells make): yes, they can be on the slow side; and yes, these non-airconditioned modes of transportation can be hot as ovens in summer.  Also, some of the windows of the older trams that remain in service don't seem to be able to completely close to keep out the rain when it pours.

But they are the most economical way to go from an area where they have a stop to another (with the adult fare having been HK$2 eight years ago and still being only HK$2.30!).  And each tram stop is closer to the next one than their bus, mini-bus and MTR equivalents.  Also, unlike the MTR but like other above ground transportation, passengers don't have to walk down and up flights of stairs and/or escalators to get on the tram (a major plus for the elderly and less mobile among us), and can see where it is going.  Indeed, the likes of my mother will point out that it's easiest to see where the tram is headed because their tracks make their routes visible in a way that bus and mini-bus routes aren't!

On one of our first visits to the "Fragrant Harbour", both my mother and I fell in love with these now-more-than-a-century-old Hong Kong mode of transportation -- and going on a tram ride is one of the things that we recommend to tourists looking to see and experience 'some local color', and learn more about Hong Kong.  And I remember, after I had moved to "Asia's World City" to work and live, taking a company intern on a tram ride all the way to Shau Kei Wan to show her that Hong Kong Island wasn't all money and expats the way she had thought after spending too much time exclusively in Central, Soho and Wan Chai. 

At a time when Hong Kong is struggling to market itself as more than just a shopping hub, and it's been pointed out that the best tourist attractions are those that neither were created nor exist specifically for tourists, the Hong Kong Tourism Board could do far worse than encourage more tourists to try riding trams.  If it does so though, I'd further suggest that tram quantity -- and quality (with air-conditioning as an option in the summer, say!) -- be increased.  In any case, the banishment of trams from Central -- or any other part of Hong Kong -- ought to be the opposite of what the authorities should be doing with regards to this much loved mode of Hong Kong public transportation! 


Anonymous said...

How can anyone in their right mind contemplate removing the trams!? I've made a point to ride the trams on every single one of many trips to HK — whether it was simply geting to a destination or just riding for fun. In fact, the trams are on my list of quintessentially HK experiences, and I always recommend them to people visiting the city for the first time. I dare say there would be some protests if they decided to remove them.

Let me join you in casting a pox on those short-sighted and overpaid consultants!

YTSL said...

Hi duriandave --

My feeling about those consultants is that they are precisely the kind that are so out of touch with regular people that they should not be allowed anywhere near work that has to do with the general public.

There's a newspaper article in which the consultancy's head said that it's probably faster for him to walk than to take the tram. That may be true but there are a lot of people (particularly senior citizens for whom this is their favorite mode of transportation) who regularly take the tram who are not able to walk as fast!

Obviously, these consultants are the sort who don't often take the tram and see who take the tram -- probably because they think modes of transportation like the tram are "beneath" them.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

IMO that guy did not get the point. I don't think even some other idiots in the system would agree to his view. If they want to improve traffic, they should tap a even bigger import tax to private vehicles. Or the Government should have ended the franchise of the three Cross Harbour Tunnels, pay the operators off, and amend the tariff of each class of vehicles to be a flat rate. This way, cross harbour traffic would self-regulate and the major rush hour traffic would immediate improve tremendously.

I do not think citizens would oppose paying the current operators off even with a bit of compensation as this is for long term good. The cost might just be a small percentage of last year's budget surplus. But the Government just wouldn't dare.


YTSL said...

Hi T --

I think it's the opinion of many people that that guy did not get the point. The best way to improve traffic is to make it so that there will be fewer private vehicles on the road. Sometimes, I think that anyone living and working in places with easy access to public transportation should not be allowed to have cars. Honestly, I think that more often than not in Hong Kong, cars are more status symbols than actual necessities.