Tramways a pollution-free option

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 May, 2013, 2:47am

I refer to the letter from Norman Y. S. Heung of the Civil Engineering and Development Department ("Practically impossible to accommodate tram system at Kai Tak", May 7).

Our intention by proposing a Modern Tramway at Kai Tak is to provide in good faith the government with another option to consider.

Being the operator of the soon-to-be-dismantled Sydney Monorail, Hong Kong Tramways' parent company Veolia is well placed to recognise the shortcomings and benefits of both solutions. We believe the strengths of a modern tramway, which include much lower construction costs, fare affordability, ability to be built by phases and extended to adjacent areas, convenience, absence of visual, air and noise pollution, and its proven socio-economic benefits, warrant a more equitable analysis.

There is some merit to Mr Heung's argument that the modern tramway would occupy more road-space than a monorail (which still occupies one traffic lane for pillars). But we believe that in a city that rightly prides itself on putting priority on public transport, and where only 10 per cent of trips are done by private car, it should not be impossible to allocate space to tram lanes that can each carry eight times as many people as a road lane.

In fact, befitting the vision of a "smokeless" Kai Tak, promoting usage of emission-free modern tramways rather than polluting private cars, would be a perfectly sensible policy decision. Where necessary, the modern tramway can simply share space with other road users.

The other implication that trams running through the promenade and across open spaces could be problematic is highly questionable.

There are countless examples of major cities' squares and landmarks safely served by modern tramways, remarkably integrated in their environment and with no visual pollution since technology freed them of overhead wires.

In fact, modern tramways have helped to revitalise and beautify many city centres, have often become icons in their own right, have been chosen by more than 400 cities worldwide and have met popular success virtually everywhere.

The same cannot be said of monorails, which explains why they remain so rare for urban transit applications.

Every solution will eventually involve trade-offs, and we are happy to exchange views as many elements of our proposal can certainly be perfected. But we believe this important choice for Hong Kong deserves more thorough and objective consideration.

Emmanuel Vivant, general manager, Hong Kong Tramways Limited