Local to take over reins at tram firm

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 June, 2012, 12:00am


Hong Kong's century-old tramway system will return to local management as the firm's French chief will be stepping down.

Bruno Charrade, managing director of Hong Kong Tramways, will be succeeded by Tsang Wing-hang, Tramway's deputy managing director and a former transport official.

Charrade was appointed to the top job after French multinational Veolia Transport bought the firm from Wharf Holdings in 2009.

He later enacted a HK$200 million scheme to revamp the city's most iconic transportation platform.

Many locals were stunned when Wharf sold Tramways to Veolia, and there were fears the foreign firm might impose undesirable changes to the famous 'Ding Ding' - one of the city's oldest cultural icons.

But the public took to the HK$200 million refurbishment plan that Veolia launched a year after the takeover. The changes - which included improvements in the signalling, braking and track system, as well as real-time passenger information systems - were well-received.

The remodelling of the trams' interior also proved to be a hit, although that led to a fare rise of 30 HK cents last year.

Over the past two years, the transport firm has however suffered a slow decline in patronage amid rising competition. But it managed to maintain an average annual net profit of HK$20 million - 10 times that of the Wharf era, which saw Wharf roll out a new advertising campaign prior to selling the transport firm.

Charrade has told the South China Morning Post that the new management would continue to extend the refurbishment scheme to the rest of the tram fleet while continuing to pursue unfinished projects. They include a re-looping of the 30-kilometre track that would allow better tram deployment to cope with uneven demand between the east and the west of Hong Kong Island; a request for more tram-priority lanes; and most importantly, to convince the government that trams are a better option than a monorail for the new Kai Tak redevelopment.

'There are a lot of nice things you can do with tramways,' said Charrade. 'In Europe, we green our tracks by growing grasses on it. Our system's not only clean but passengers get on and off easily. It's also much cheaper than monorail.'

The nine-kilometre monorail system - a project the government proposed to link Kai Tak with its neighbourhood - has raised eyebrows over its whopping estimated construction cost of HK$12 billion.

Charrade, 40, was once tipped to be a likely successor to Daniel Cukierman, Veolia Transport's Asia chief executive, as he was heavily involved in the mainland business and won several bus projects for the firm in Nanjing and Macau.

However, Charrade said he would be moving to Chile to develop Veolia's public transport business in South America.

Tsang, who worked for more than 16 years at the Transport Department, became Hong Kong Tramway's deputy chief last year. He will assume his new post on July 1.