Tram deal may translate to better service after all
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Trams are unknown to most cities, or to be found only in transport museums or in the loving care of historical societies. In Hong Kong, they remain a loved part of collective memory for several generations, the city's oldest form of public transport and living heritage. Given that this city does not have a shining reputation for conservation, the news that conglomerate Wharf had sold a 50 per cent stake in Hong Kong Tramways - and operating rights - to a French multinational naturally gave rise to some trepidation. Could Veolia Transport - or anyone familiar with the leisurely boulevards and avenues of Paris - really understand that Hong Kong people are used to sharing their narrow, winding and congested streets with these unyielding old bone-shakers, and do not want change? Or would it throw its hands in the air and shout, Ce n'est pas possible!
Happily, the water and waste management, energy and transport giant boasts of its green credentials on its website, and has a track record in operating environmentally friendly technology to back them up. Age difference aside, that is a perfect match with our old trams, whose clean, electric technology has made them a fashionable choice again. Hopes that this would ensure that services are improved without sacrificing their uniqueness may not be disappointed. After a four-month study of our tram-travelling habits and demand, Hong Kong Tramways' new managing director, Bruno Charrade, has revealed plans to make the trams do what even we thought was impossible - go a little faster, and also a little slower at times, to avoid bunching at stops and improve the frequency of service. We would like to see that.
A lot depends on whether Veolia can convince the government to look into providing at least one new turning place in either Causeway Bay or Wan Chai so the frequency of service can be increased for the western part of Hong Kong Island, where demand is highest.
Given the congestion of those two places, it is the government that may end up saying Ce n'est pas possible! We trust Monsieur Charrade can be very persuasive.