There's nothing like a (nearly) free ride to get people queuing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 May, 2008, 12:00am

They queued for up to seven hours, despite the rain, yet hundreds were turned away disappointed, others gave up and two fell ill waiting. And for what?

A chance to buy a round trip on the Peak Tram for 30 HK cents - the price it charged when it started operating on May 30, 1888 - instead of HK$48, and get a commemorative ticket, as the funicular railway marked its 120th anniversary.

'I'm really very sorry that they have to wait that long, and as for the rain, well, that was destiny,' said Sir Michael Kadoorie, chairman of Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels, which owns Peak Tramways. 'I think everybody has come with a view to celebrate.'

The crowds were largely orderly. Staff began turning away people trying to join the queue after 6.30pm, and they stopped selling tickets at 8.35pm, more than three hours earlier than planned.

By 6pm, 8,000 people had made the trip from Central to The Peak and the company estimated 2,000 to 3,000 more were queuing.

Peak Tramways put on a show for the celebration, with staff in period costumes, an exhibition of historical photographs of Hong Kong and another featuring McDull, the cartoon pig who often rides the tram in his animated movies.

A woman in the queue, Choi Yuen-ling, said she had wanted to bring her two-year-old daughter to take photographs with the staff in period costumes. 'But they told us we have to wait for five hours, so now we will go riding the regular tram instead of the Peak Tram,' she said.

May Tsang Ying-mei, deputy general manager of The Peninsula Hotels, said the tramway had prepared for its daily capacity of 10,000 to 12,000. By late evening the company did not have an exact tally of passengers, but said it was about 10,000.

The trams, each of which carries 120 people, ran at 15-minute intervals in the morning but then switched to running at 10-minute intervals.

They were scheduled to operate for 17 hours - from 7am until midnight. By 10am, the waiting time for a ride was six hours, and many left to return an hour later to try their luck, but the wait was still five hours.