Transport and logistics

Planning advisers reject proposal to call time on tram services in core of Hong Kong’s central business district

Town Planning Board pours cold water on idea to remove historic trams between Central and Wan Chai

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 August, 2017, 5:10pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 August, 2017, 5:52pm

Planning advisers for the government rejected a controversial proposal to remove trams from a key section of Hong Kong’s central business district during a meeting of the city’s Town Planning Board on Friday.

Former local town planner Sit Kwok-keung had submitted an application to do away with trams between the downtown districts of Central and Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island due to traffic congestion concerns, despite the board already having rejected a similar submission in 2015.

The plan stirred up much public debate two years ago, with a majority coming out against disposing of the city’s oldest and cheapest form of public transport, which has a history stretching back 113 years.

Sit justified his proposal by saying the trams occupied valuable road space in the busiest part of Hong Kong Island.

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“About two-thirds of the road surface occupied by trams [in the area] is wasted, as the number of tram passengers is only 4.65 per cent of that for franchised buses and 3.82 per cent of that for the MTR,” the proposal read.

Sit said removing trams would help avoid accidents, referring to an incident in April in which a tram toppled over at the junction of Queensway and Des Voeux Road Central outside the headquarters of HSBC.

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Hong Kong’s transport and housing minister and its Planning Department had both rejected the new proposal, according to a paper from the Town Planning Board. The board in a meeting on Friday also disagreed with the application, which sought to amend the Central district outline zoning plan.

“Deletion of the tramway would not necessarily release more road space. Instead it may have a significant impact on public transport users. The affected passengers might turn to other road-based transport ... [which] would in turn generate new vehicular trips at the congested road sections,” transport minister Frank Chan Fan had said.

Discontinuation of tram services, which are known affectionately in Hong Kong as “ding dings” for the sound of their bells, would affect 110,000 passengers a day, he added.

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Removing the section of track in Central and Wan Chai would undermine the seamless service between Kennedy Town on the western tip of the island and Shau Kei Wan in the east, he said.

The double-decker vehicles have a daily average patronage of about 200,000 passengers.

The Planning Department had said the removal proposal was “inappropriate” and would “set an undesirable precedent”.

“There is no strong reason to agree or partially agree to the application,” it said.

The board received more than 6,000 objections from the public to the new plan. In 2015, more than 22,000 expressed opposition.

Hong Kong Tramways, which runs the fleet of 164 cars, earlier said it “strongly objected” to the application to remove services, which it said were part of the city’s heritage.

“The tram is the most affordable, convenient and environmentally friendly mode of public transport in Hong Kong,” it said.