Hong Kong needs to develop a better public transport strategy
Hong Hong has long crowed about having one of the world's best public transport systems. The MTR in particular has been pointed to as a shining example of cutting-edge infrastructure. But a rising tide of passengers, mostly tourists from the mainland, are pushing services to the limit, leading to overcrowding and congestion. The authorities and the MTR Corporation and bus companies have to work more closely to better meet challenges.
The government's transport strategy has centred on the MTR. Buses play a secondary role, feeding stations and serving far-flung destinations and less-travelled routes. Amid rising passenger numbers and recent MTR breakdowns, railway operations have recently been under closer scrutiny. With the introduction of a new standard for carriage capacity, the MTR has been asked to find ways of easing the worsening squeeze.
Changing passenger habits has been pointed to by the Transport and Housing Bureau as the reason for revising the passenger ratio per square metre on trains from a maximum of six to four. That adds to the strains on the MTR, used by most mainland visitors. Using the new measures, the East Rail and Tseung Kwan O lines are already at maximum capacity at peak hours, with the West Rail, Tsuen Wan, Kwun Tong and Island lines at more than 90 per cent, and the Ma On Shan line at 80 per cent. Half of the 54.3 million visitor arrivals last year entered by train from the mainland. With officials predicting that numbers could double by 2023, a policy overhaul is a necessity.
Schemes to increase capacity include standing-only carriages, more frequent trains and early-bird fares to encourage non-peak travel. But piecemeal measures are not enough. Even when new MTR projects come on line and the high-speed line to the mainland opens at the end of next year, better strategies have to be developed. That will require the government, transport companies and employers working together to ensure travel is as safe, reliable, comfortable, affordable and environmentally friendly as possible.