Hongkong Tramways fares may rise to pay for substation relocation

Tram operator has to leave Times Square substation by March 2018; move will cost HK$30 million

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 August, 2016, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2016, 1:55am

The company that runs the city’s iconic trams, known affectionately as “ding-dings”, may ­have to increase fares in order to raise the HK$30 million needed to relocate its substation in Causeway Bay by 2018.

Emmanuel Vivant, managing director of Hongkong Tramways, said he would not rule out applying to the government to raise fares as the company was struggling with declining revenue and trying to foot the relocation bill.

“We haven’t made a decision yet but we are working on a five-year financial plan on how to meet this challenge,” Vivant said, ­adding that the last fare increase happened more than five years ago, in 2011.

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The tram company has to vacate its substation, which serves as a voltage converter in Times Square, before March 2018 at the request of the landlord.

Hongkong Tramways has identified two sites in Causeway Bay – one on Morrison Hill Road and another on Causeway Road – for the relocation as the company requires two separate substations to balance the trams’ power supply on two sides of the district.

Vivant said the Town Planning Board had already approved its application, but it still had to contend with the relocation expenditure of about HK$30 million, which included costs for upgrading the equipment and facilities there.

Another factor contributing to the company’s woes was a 17 per cent drop in passenger numbers over the past five years, from a daily average of 220,000 in 2011 to 185,000 passengers in June this year.

The opening of the MTR’s West Island Line to Kennedy Town last year triggered a 10 per cent decline in tram usage, while heavy traffic congestion contributed to a further drop of 7 per cent.

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However, there has been a ­rebound of 5 per cent in the number of ­passengers over the past few months after the company implemented a scientific schedule to reduce the waiting time for the trams during peak hours.

The Pokemon Go craze has also boosted tram patronage as the vehicles travel at speeds slow enough to hunt for the virtual creatures.

Meanwhile, Hongkong ­Tramways’ pilot “cooler tram” scheme – with an air-conditioned tram – has so far received good responses. It will review the programme when it ends next month and decide whether to introduce more such trams during the summer months.