City Weekend

Why Hong Kong is not getting 24-hour MTR service any time soon

Many businesses catering to the late-night crowd back round-the-clock trains, but the railway giant does not

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 September, 2016, 6:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 9:48am

Hong Kong’s MTR operator has poured cold water on the suggestion that the city would follow in London’s footsteps with the introduction of a 24-hour train service.

The Night Tube was launched last month in the famed London Underground, marking the start of overnight services on two key lines on Friday and Saturday nights between midnight and 5.30am.

London’s politicians hope the extended service will give the entertainment and restaurant businesses that rely on late-night clientele an economic boost, with bars able to extend last calls and revellers having more to spend by saving on taxi fares home.

But while the idea of Asia’s world city following suit draws support from some quarters, the MTR Corporation said it had no plans to extend services, which now run from about 5.30am to 1am.

The MTR transports an average 4.58 million passengers a day, with overnight services only provided on certain holidays, such as Lunar New Year’s Eve and Mid-Autumn Festival, when passenger traffic during off-hours is expected to be high.

An MTR spokesman said the hours that trains were not in operation were used to carry out maintenance works.

“Maintenance works are essential and have to be carried out throughout the network in the small hours after around 19 hours of operation during the day,” he said.

This is how the railway giant “maintains such high quality train services,” he added.

However, entertainment entrepreneur Allan Zeman, known as the “father of Lan Kwai Fong”, an area in Central filled with bars and restaurants, saw value in extending the MTR’s operating hours.

While he conceded Hong Kong was easier to get around compared to other cities, he thought a case could be made for extending services on weekends.

“I’d love it, I wouldn’t say no to it,” the chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Holdings said.

“[But] I’m not sure how much of a demand [there would be] from 1am to 5am ... or how profitable it would be for the MTR. Hong Kong is a much smaller place, it’s much easier to get around [than other cities].”

Zeman added that if services were limited to two nights a week on Fridays and Saturdays, “it’s definitely worth looking at”.

Chung Wan district councillor and Legislative Council candidate Ted Hui Chi-fung believed overnight train services could enhance Hong Kong’s economy in the long term.

“Bars and restaurants would get more sales opportunities and [higher] turnover,” he said.

“If the MTR is able to provide overnight train services, this can be beneficial to the entertainment district in Lan Kwai Fong,” he added. “It is likely [patrons will] tend to stay there after midnight, as they find it is convenient for them to get back home at any time by train.”

Hui said providing another option for people to return home in the early hours of the morning might also cut down on taxi malpractice, such as refusing fares or overcharging passengers.

Like the MTR, the Transport and Housing Bureau was also reluctant about 24-hour service, with a spokesman citing Hong Kong’s vast public transportation options during the early hours of the morning.

“During the approximately five hours after midnight when railway service is not available, there are 47 and 38 franchised bus and green minibus routes respectively providing services, to meet the needs of a certain group of citizens who need public transport services after midnight,” he said.

Cost effectiveness was also a “critical issue” that the government – the MTR’s largest shareholder – had to consider if overnight services were to be provided, the spokesman added.

He said extra operational costs would “inevitably be incurred when trains, stations, other railway facilities as well as the MTR staff” had to be working longer.