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HK Magazine Archive

Who Numbers Hong Kong’s Buses—Do They Mean Anything?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 March, 2016, 10:34am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:02pm

Hong Kong’s geographic split means that its bus system can be pretty stupid. For example, there’s not one, not two, but THREE number 1 buses in Hong Kong, each serving  a different route on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and Lantau. Likewise for routes 2, 11, 23, 37 and 38, all of which could put you in three drastically different areas of the city. A tip for you: If you’re looking to meet up with friends, don’t do it at the number 37 bus stop.

The reason behind this repetitive numbering is, of course, history. Hong Kong’s buses were originally operated by five or six different companies, and they called their routes whatever they liked. In 1933 the government imposed a franchise system, cutting down the operators in each area. But, by that point the bus routes and commuters were all set in their ways, and no one really had the heart to rename them. But repeated routes aside, there’s a logic to Hong Kong’s bus numbering that may not be evident at first. Especially when it comes to triple-numbered routes, a little knowledge goes a long way.

  • 100s Cross-harbor routes, via the Cross-Harbour Tunnel.
  • 300s Express cross-harbor routes for peak-hour traffic.
  • 600s Cross-harbor routes, via the Eastern Harbour Crossing.
  • 900s Cross-harbor routes, via the Western Harbour Crossing.
  • 700s Express buses which use the Island Eastern Corridor.
  • 200s Air-conditioned bus routes: no longer relevant since the phasing out of the final non-air-con buses in 2012.
  • 500s Air-conditioned bus routes on the island: similarly no longer relevant.
  • 800s An auspicious number for routes to Sha Tin Racecourse on race days. Bus 888 shuttles between Sha Tin MTR station and the track.

There’s also a series of letters added to give extra information:

  • N Overnight routes running in the small hours.
  • M Routes terminating at an MTR station.
  • K Routes terminating at what used to be KCR stations: now East Rail, West Rail and Ma On Shan Line stations.
  • P Peak time routes.
  • R Recreational routes, e.g. to Disneyland or holiday services.
  • X Express routes which skip intervening stops.
  • A As a prefix, airport services. As a suffix, can mean anything.

So with a little knowledge, you can tell at a glance where a bus is headed, how fast it’ll get you there and if you can switch to the MTR at the other end. Sadly, it’s not all that logical. The “A” suffix is pretty randomly applied.

There are exceptions to most of these guidelines, which don’t begin to cover minibuses. And then there’s the N8P bus, which runs along the island between Siu Sai Wan and Wan Chai. All well and good—until you realize that the letters imply that it’s a night bus that only runs during peak hours. Perhaps the city’s nocturnal workforce lives in Siu Sai Wan and works in Wan Chai? It’s enough to make you yearn for multiple bus routes, each with the same number.