• Tue
  • Sep 23, 2014
  • Updated: 3:24pm
NewsHong Kong

100 million tourists by 2023 prediction sparks fears the MTR will not cope

Annual tourist arrivals may hit 100 million in a decade, the government says. Can the city really take so many visitors? In the first of a series of reports, we ask: is the MTR pushing capacity?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 3:40am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 January, 2014, 6:48pm

It can be a worker's hardest job of the day - squeezing into an MTR train during peak hours.

Some see four full trains go by before finally being able to struggle onto the fifth one at Admiralty station, while as many as 1,000 other people continue to line the platform, hoping for better luck with the next train.

Harassed commuters are asking whether the city's railway system will be able to cope with the government's estimate of 100 million tourists in 2023, as stated last week by Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung.

Experts also expressed doubts, with one saying the city's tourism planning could be among the worst in the world.

"The long queues have been around for so many years without much improvement. It would be magic if you could get on the train easily at 6.30pm," said Raven Wong Kar-yin, 40, an insurance worker waiting for a Tsuen Wan-bound train at Admiralty at that time last Thursday.

Observations showed that on a normal weekday evening, an average of 20 to 50 people queued outside each of the doors on Tsuen Wan-bound trains at Admiralty station, one of the most heavily used routes for cross-harbour commuters, between 6pm and 7pm.

That works out to more than 1,000 people at a time waiting for each of the trains that come every 106 seconds or so at one of the busiest interchange stations.

Watch: Hong Kong's MTR during peak hours

An MTR official with knowledge of the Island Line's operation said the situation at Admiralty was "under control", adding that queues were up to twice as long before station improvement work. But he admitted there had been an "obvious increase" in passengers in recent years.

An analysis by the South China Morning Post found that half of the 54.3 million arrivals to the city came through the two railway control points - Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau, which link directly to the East Rail Line. Should half of the 45.7 million new visitors do likewise, the East Rail Line would need some 17 additional trains a day in 2023 if the current occupancy rate is to be maintained.

The line's loading at peak hours reached 70 per cent in 2012, with average daily passenger flow up by 14.6 per cent to 1 million compared with 892,000 in 2008. Occupancy on the Island line was also about 70 per cent.

Passenger Lucy Lee said she did not think the MTR could cope with more tourists, although she said she saw "not too many tourists" at peak hours.

That might not be true. As Lee was waiting for her third train, dozens of Asian tourists, including mainlanders, were seen dragging luggage, flipping through maps and holding cameras.

Veteran transport analyst Dr Hung Wing-tat said the 70 per cent occupancy rate could mean some stations were close to or had already exceeded their capacities, as some stations were less crowded than others.

The cross-border express railway is due to open next year and more railway lines, such as the North Island Line, are being planned. Hung said they might help relieve the situation.

The MTR expects 23 per cent of south-bound East Rail passengers to switch to the Sha Tin-Central link when its first phase, between Tai Wai and Hung Hom, opens in 2018.

Professor Bob McKercher, at the Polytechnic University's school of hotel and tourism management, said Hong Kong had long ignored planning for same-day-return visitors, who put more pressure on the transport system than overnight travellers. In the first 11 months of last year, 25.9 million of 49 million visitors did not stay the night.

"Hong Kong plans its major infrastructure well, but it could have the worst-planned tourism," McKercher said.

Most day visitors would go to the shopping malls and "behave very differently from overnight tourists", he said, adding that shopping malls for them should be built near the border so they did not increase the burden on the transport system.


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This article is now closed to comments

The MTR is already not coping. Any commuter can see that. Expanding the services will be welcome whether or not tourists eventuate.
Re: the last paragraph. Didn't the Chief Executive propose a town near the border to facilitate tourists from China to shop? That was severely criticized, so what's the point of raising it again? Or is McKercher confirming that that proposal should be pursued?
Over the years our tourism sector has prospered by free riding on our local infrastructure. Tourism related business has made very good money but what have they contributed? Long queues. Traffic jams. Pollution and rubbish. Inflated prices. The list goes on. Tourists are to be welcomed. It is the tourism sector that should be made to pay.
I think that you are on the right track. In Houston, combined taxes when you stay in a hotel are 17.5 percent. You can stop giving MTR tickets to tourists with discounted rates, except you may want to give them tickets with high penalties for traveling from HK Island to Kowloon during the peak rush hours. If you are a tourist, you don't really need to be visiting central and going to tsim sha shui when everyone is trying to get home. Tourists are going to have show some consideration, learn a little bit about how HK works, stay out of the way and have fun taking it all in...
When we travel abroad, how would we like having our wanderings limited by hours and districts, and having to learn about them? Let's deal with the travel problems and expand the MTR services or whatever else necessary. The costs would be returned very soon by users anyway.
To ease congestion:
1. Connect the West Rail to Lok Ma Chau via a spur to Kam Sheung Rd Station. Remove the LMC link to the East Rail, thereby dividing the 'China' traffic between the two lines.
2. Open the border crossings 24 hours a day; run the MTR 24 hrs a day and introduce cheaper fares for MTR travel from 11 pm to 7 am. This will encourage mainland visitors to travel outside the normal usage hours AND reduce the call on hotel rooms as more persons are likely to limit their stay due to ease of access into and out of HK.
3. Require all passengers to remove back packs before boarding trains and put them on the floor between their legs, thereby easing 'shoulder' room in the carriages.
5. Require all stationary users on the escalators to stand on the right to allow other users to move on the left, speeding up the traffic flow.
5. MTR staff to enforce baggage/luggage/trolley regulations, to make travelling a little more comfortable.
8. Do not allow people to read their telephones, notebooks, newspapers, etc. during rush hours.
Actually, I go from Admiralty to TST between 6-7 pm 3 or 4 times per week and almost never have to wait for more than 1 train. After taking the escalator down, just keep walking forward and head to the front of the train. No matter how many people are waiting, it always seems you can get on the 2nd train, if not the first one. The rear of the trains get full at Central due to the layout and escalators there, but the front of the trains are almost empty. The front section of the platform in Admiralty doesn't hold many people so nearly everyone gets on the train.
John Adams
I agree all your proposals: excellent ideas !
But sadly I also have to agree with what DinGao has written : all your proposals are far too sensible to be taken seriously
Good points.

6. Impose a HKD 80 departure tax for non-HKID holding passengers leaving Hong Kong over land (we already have a HKD 120 departure tax for those leaving by air, and HKD 20 for those leaving on vessels). This money (3~4 billion per year) can be used to pay for the additional MTR and border infrastructure, plus also reducing the flow of people who cross the border just to buy a pack of cigarettes.

7. Upgrade the East and West lines in such a manner that Express Trains (eg Lo Wu => Shatin => Hung Hom) can run alongside the local trains, maybe 3~4 times every hour. The 'through' trains from Guangzhou already do the same thing now on the East Line. Use double decker carriages for these. This would relieve the rest of the line from all the tourist traffic that skips all of the NT and is heading straight to TST/CWB and so on.
Impala - there is an existing plan for Guangzhou>Hung Hom through trains to be redirected at LoWu across NT and connect into the new HSR line, going into West Kowloon rail staton. Its referred to as the "LoWu Bifurcation"
Its been in the plans for many years - but never acted upon. This should allow the east rail line to become fully automated.
Also - Its expected that there will be up to a train every 15 minutes from W.Kowloon into Futian and Shenzhen North Stations.
re rail departure tax - yes its already in the ticket price for LoWu and LokMaChau stations.




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