Tired of waiting 10 minutes for a tram, only for three of them to turn up at once? Hong Kong Tramways thinks it has a solution.
The network has entered the digital age with the installation of a real-time monitoring system to keep track of its 161 trams. As well as providing information to passengers on when they can expect their tram to arrive, tramway bosses say the system allows them to manage movements more efficiently.
About 600 electronic tags have been buried along the track to sense radio frequencies from antennae in the trams as they enter and leave each stop. That information is fed back to the tram control centre, where staff can monitor the progress of trams on an animated map.
When several trams become bunched together, they will be able to make adjustments. For example, if a tram is delayed, the one in front might stay longer at the next stop to allow more passengers to board, relieving the load on the delayed tram and allowing it to make faster progress.
Alternatively, large gaps could be plugged by ordering another tram from the depots at Whitty Street and Sai Wan Ho.
'Sometimes a tram will have to be held up,' said David Wong Choi-kau, the tramway's operations manager. 'But this is to speed up the whole system and reduce waiting time for passengers.'
Previously, operators had to rely on information from just 30 modems along the track.
The company hopes the new system, launched last month, will help it turn around a decline in passenger numbers in recent years. About 80 million journeys were made on the 30-kilometre network last year, 3 per cent down on 2010, continuing a trend of 2 to 3 per cent falls a year.
The real-time information is available online and a new website will be tested in the coming weeks, offering passengers the time and destination of the next three trams.
A smartphone app is also being discussed.
The company will begin installing electronic screens at selected stops in the summer, and a few new trams will also have information screens showing their next destination.
Development of the positioning system started in October 2010 and cost less than HK$5 million. The operator has no plans for a further fare rise after the adult fare went up from HK$2 to HK$2.30 last year.