On track for air-conditioned tram experiment

Pilot project will test technical feasibility of cooler travel and assess the public's reaction

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 5:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2014, 8:38am

An air-conditioned tram could hit the roads soon as the company running Hong Kong's iconic mode of transport revisits the idea.

Emmanuel Vivant, the new managing director of Hong Kong Tramways, said the company was preparing a pilot project, which would see one tram with air-conditioning in operation for at least six months.

Vivant, previously the company's general manager, said the firm had yet to decide on when to roll out the project and which route would be used for the experiment.

Three air-conditioned trams were put into service about 14 years ago when the company still belonged to Wharf Holdings, but they were withdrawn after frequent breakdowns.

After French firm Veolia bought the company in 2009, the then managing director, Bruno Charrade, said it planned to add more powerful engines that would enable trams to be air-conditioned.

Vivant emphasised that the company had not decided on whether air-conditioned trams would be officially launched after the trial, but the pilot project would give it an idea of technically feasibility and help it gauge the travelling public's reaction.

"There are technical hurdles to integrating air-conditioners in our trams. There's also the question of whether the public would welcome it," he said. "We also need our service to remain affordable to all."

Vivant said the trams were serving two very different groups of passengers - daily commuters and people who hope to preserve the heritage. He noted that the demands of the two groups were very different.

"We need to try every way to improve our service and to improve comfort," he said.

Vivant, 33, said the company had no plan to raise fares, which stand at HK$2.30 for adults and HK$1.20 for children after the last increase in 2011.

He said patronage of the trams had been decreasing, from 230,000 passengers daily five years ago to the current 200,000. During his tenure, he hoped to recover the lost passengers by providing more timely information of tram arrivals and continuing discussions with the government to alleviate road congestion, which has an impact on travel time.

The company had suggested to the government that a modern tram system in the Kai Tak development area be used instead of the proposed HK$12 billion elevated monorail. It said a modern tram system would cost only HK$2.8 billion to construct, and would not prevent big ships using the Kwun Tong typhoon shelter, which has been a major obstacle to the monorail project.

Vivant said it would respect the government's decision, on the idea, adding that as Veolia had experience in monorail services, the company may bid for the construction. The public consultation ended in February.