Why are Hong Kong people last in line in their own city?

Michael Chugani cannot understand why our policymakers appear to prioritise the needs of the visitor hordes over residents' welfare

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 12:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 10:17pm

What was it that King Cnut tried to do? Oh yes, he tried to turn back the tide. I thought of Cnut over the holiday break when I foolishly tested Commerce Secretary Greg So Kam-leung's assertion that Hong Kong could handle 100 million visitors.

My first stop was the Victoria Park fair on Lunar New Year's Eve. It quickly became clear that you don't get to walk at this fair. You are pushed along by a human tide. I fought my way out and fled after 15 minutes but got trapped in an even thicker tide of locals and mainlanders across from the Sogo store. This time, I actually feared for my life.

On the third day of the Lunar New Year, I gathered enough nerve to test So's claim again. Riding the Peak Tram was out of the question. The line of mostly mainlanders stretched back to Garden Road. I headed for the number 15 bus to the Peak. The line at the Exchange Square terminus was so long I had to wait for four buses.

During the ride, it hit me that the long bus and tram lines meant the Peak would be a madhouse. I tried to get off but got trapped on the upper deck by a wall of people along the stairs. I cursed and yelled at the driver to wait.

Next stop, Tsim Sha Tsui, where I got hit by so many wheeled suitcases that I actually kicked one in a fit of rage. I decided I had done enough testing and headed home.

Here's what I want to ask So: if, with 54 million visitors a year, a Peak trip on a holiday requires waiting for four buses, how many buses must I wait for in 2017 when we will have 70 million visitors, and in 2023 when there will be 100 million? Should we pioneer triple-decker buses, build an escalator, or more Peak Tram systems? If Ocean Park had to suspend ticket sales this year and last year due to the Lunar New Year crush, what will it be like in 2017?

Sure, I could stay at home during "golden week" holidays. But why should taxpayers like me have to be prisoners in our own homes while we turn the city over to visitors?

So is not the only one loopy enough to think we can handle 100 million visitors. Jack So Chak-kwong, head of the Economic Development Commission's task force on tourism, boastfully said so too last July.

I wrote here at the time that if he and other policymakers rode public transport instead of chauffeur-driven cars, they wouldn't be talking through their rear ends, to which he replied in a letter to the editor that he does indeed use the MTR.

I take that with a pinch of salt. I have seen some legislators ride the MTR but never people like Jack So, Greg So or other policymakers.

Cnut couldn't stop the tide. Neither can Hong Kong. But how to manage the tide? Build more hotels, say policymakers.

That shows how clueless they are about public resentment towards the growing tide. It doesn't matter to the policymakers that locals now avoid Ocean Park, must queue for hours to ride the Peak Tram, and have to fight for walking space in city streets. The tourists must have hotels. They come first.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com




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