Trains take the strain as Hong Kong commuters flock to new MTR stations

Busy first working day at Ho Man Tin and Whampoa stations leaves minibus operators counting the cost in the congested area

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 October, 2016, 8:29pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 October, 2016, 9:56pm

Tens of thousands of commuters flocked to the new MTR stations in Ho Man Tin and Whampoa on Monday, preferring packed railway carriages to the heavy road congestion they used to endure.

Operations on the first working day of the HK$7.2 billion Kwun Tong Line extension were generally smooth, although the additional passengers further stretched the already strained capacity of the railway network during rush hour, with some having to wait for a second train at interchange stations.

Those who get on at Whampoa or Ho Man Tin must change trains at Yau Ma Tei station to reach Tsim Sha Tsui or Hong Kong Island, prompting worries that the station would struggle to accommodate such a surge in passenger flow.

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“According to observations by our staff members this morning, there was a slight increase in the number of passengers, but the overall order was satisfactory,” MTR head of operating Alan Cheng Kwan-hing said, adding that waiting times for trains were “roughly the same”.

After complaints of faulty lifts and wrong signage displays on Sunday, there were no hiccups on Monday, with 25,400 commuters passing through the gates of Ho Man Tin and Whampoa stations by 11am, rising to 62,700 by 5pm.

Many of those shunned the buses and minibuses they used to take to avoid heavy congestion in the area.

Tony Poon, who works in Admiralty, said he would take the MTR even if it was a little crowded. “It’s good to have more MTR stations. Residents will benefit,” he said

Minibus operators were the inevitably losers. CFM Management, which operates seven minibus routes in Whampoa, said the number of passengers on route 6X for Tsim Sha Tsui plunged by 40 per cent in the morning.

“It’s too early to jump to a conclusion as it’s only the first day of [the MTR’s] operation, but passenger numbers would be down by at least 15 per cent,” fleet manager Alfred Lai Chi-yin said.

He insisted the company would not look into reducing fares to keep passengers, saying it would aim to maintain stable frequencies and offer better service quality.

A route restructuring proposal has also been submitted to the Transport Department to focus on areas further away from MTR stations, Lai added, although he admitted congestion was still their biggest headache.

“All our minibuses have been fitted with GPS tracking systems. You can see our fleet clogging up at certain sections during rush hours,” he said.

Whampoa West district councillor Kwong Po-yin, who was on board the MTR in the morning rush hour, said she found the instructions inside the station satisfactory.

“But some residents are still confused and need some time to get used to the exit markings,” she said, referring to the two concourses at Whampoa, which are separate from each other.