Tour buses add to gridlock in TST East
It has become an all too common sight in Tsim Sha Tsui East. Traffic comes to a standstill as buses stop to let a stream of tourists alight.
Outside the Mody Road DFS Galleria, which is popular with mainland shopping tours, bus drivers sit in their vehicles waiting for their passengers to finish their hours of shopping.
Vehicles trying to get around double-parked buses veer into lanes meant for oncoming traffic, raising safety concerns.
The situation could get worse in January, when a huge new duty-free store opens on the site of the recently closed Club Bboss, beside the DFS Galleria in Chinachem Plaza.
Yau Tsim Mong district councillor Kwan Sau-ling says she has received numerous complaints from residents and business owners about the gridlock created by illegally parked tour buses.
Last year, Kwan saw an opportunity to redirect the influx of tour buses to a government bus depot at the other end of Mody Road.
It was built in 2007 to relieve the ageing Star Ferry bus terminus, but plans to raze that terminus and build a piazza dragged on, meaning the new depot sat empty for five years.
The controversial piazza plan was declared dead on Thursday, but instead of using the Mody Road depot for tour buses, the government plans to make it a rest area for buses serving 14 local routes.
Kwan's proposal to turn the depot into a coach park for private tour companies did not garner enough support from her fellow councillors.
She said it would be next month before she could introduce the proposal for the district council to consider again.
'It's a waste,' Kwan said. 'Giving public buses that structure is redundant since the Star Ferry terminus and a terminus in Science Museum Road can accommodate buses used on the public routes comfortably.'
Kwan said allocating the Mody Road depot for tour buses would solve congestion in the area's main shopping hubs in Chatham Road and Mody Road.
'If the tour-bus companies are violating parking regulations, this is something the police should look into,' she said.
'They are after convenience. They want to drop tourists off at the doorstep because they're afraid they will wander off somewhere else to shop, [in stores where the tour guides do not receive a commission].
'In Mody Road there's a Wing On, there's the Empire Centre, there's a few places to go shopping.'
In addition to violating parking regulations, buses often idle their engines, which environmental groups say highlights weaknesses in the anti-idling law passed last December, which exempts any bus with at least one passenger on board.
Record-high pollution levels last week, which prompted the government to warn vulnerable people to stay indoors, have put a renewed focus on sources of pollution.
Roadside emissions are the second largest contributor to air pollution and pose a particularly dangerous threat since the exhaust comes out at street level, according to the Clean Air Network.
Amy Ng, a volunteer with local green group Clear the Air, said that although people complained about the air quality, they were hesitant to act. The problem did not seem urgent enough, or people did not believe it affected them.
'It doesn't seem that bad. People aren't dropping like flies. Maybe your sinuses get irritated or you develop a cough. But unless you have asthma or you have elderly people or children with you, it's not really a concern for most people,' she said.
'But when the tour bus is idling, the bad air goes back into the bus. They think they're breathing in clean air but they're not.'
Tourists are more interested in getting back to the air-conditioned comfort of the buses than keeping the city's air clean.
Outside the DFS Galleria, tired shoppers often return to sit on their bus and the coaches' engines idle for fifteen minutes or more.
One shopper on a day-tour from Shenzhen complained: 'There's nowhere to sit in the mall and outside is too hot.'
The shopper, who had her eight-year-old daughter in tow, said: 'She's tired, so we'll wait on the bus.'
Ng said the issue of air quality needed to be addressed from the point of view of vehicle design and urban planning, not just the legal aspect.