It's totally infuriating. You stand at the bus stop in Hunghom at the entrance to the Cross Harbour Tunnel, Octopus card in hand, and along trundles a Number 104. Fight, squeeze, push, elbow, shove, cram . . . you eventually get to the front of the queue and up the stairs. Then you discover the vehicle is 'un-octopused'. The magic electronic machinery is not installed. So you dig into your pocket and scrounge around the bottom of your briefcase in a futile search for the magic $7.30, if the vehicle is air-conditioned, or $8.90, if it has cool air. Meanwhile, your fellow commuters are mumbling curses. People are trying to swap coins to get the correct amount; usually, I end up depositing an extra 20 cents or 70 cents into the coffers of a multi-billion dollar transport company, something that does not put me in a delightful mood to start the day. The whole procedure is a shambles. And it is unnecessary. If all buses - and, indeed, all forms of public transport - were fitted with the Octopus, such daily hindrances would be easily avoided. That happy day is coming. There is a widespread consensus, between the Transport Department, Transport Advisory Committee, Legco's Transport Panel, and commuter groups, that all public transport companies should install Octopus cards, and that they be used on all routes. However, it's not so simple, and the three largest public bus companies are, admittedly, doing a pretty good job of linking up with the system. Congratulations to Citybus. Of the 1,080 vehicles in their fleet, 1,050 now allow you to walk on with a flash of the card. The exceptions are mostly services heading over the border; 83 per cent of all their routes accept Octopus and there is expected to be blanket coverage by the end of this month. The company has spent $28 million on the system without the government having to order it to do so, and without a fare increase or a subsidy. 'There is no comparable system anywhere in the world and there is a price for being at the forefront of such technology,' says Citybus marketing manager, Stuart Dobie. And good for KMB, which has 740 of its 4,142 vehicles linked to Octopus. That's 18 per cent of its routes. Those figures will double by the end of this month. The entire fleet will be equipped by the end of 2000. Originally, this deadline was to be in 2004, but, in response to public demand, the Big Boy of the Buses stepped on the accelerator. New World First Bus took over the ramshackle fleet of China Motor Bus three months ago. CMB, with the disdain for customer service that finally resulted in losing its franchise, had not adopted Octopus. Its successor has done so, with enthusiasm. It vows to install the automatic payment system into every vehicle. Current plans are to start installation in February, and for all 730 buses to have Octopus by October. Buses, okay. But what about ferries? And trams? The Star Ferry is possibly our best-loved and most sentimental form of public transport. But the payment system is antiquated. I carry a purse in my briefcase choked with 10-cent, 20-cent, $1 and $5 coins - it's just about a lethal weapon. You need this bag of wealth if you travel around the city by mini-bus, tram and ferry. It is impossible - if you doubt me, try it - to duck into a shop and get small change. It should be easy for the Star Ferry to introduce the Octopus; they need only about 20 of the machines. And trams should also be required to follow the trend; the clanking old monsters are great people movers and there is no reason why these efficient relics of the 19th century should not be dragged into the new millennium. I would like to see Octopus spread its tentacles much further, clutching all forms of public transport and even some other public services in its embrace. Those nonsensical, inefficient, and user-hateful car parking meters should be operated by the card. And why can't they easily be linked to the auto pass system at car tunnels; maybe you would have to stop and swipe instead of driving straight through, but it would still speed things up. The technology is there; as always, it is the political will and the bureaucratic inertia that provide the problems. The chairman of the Transport Advisory Committee, Cheng Hon-kwan, says, with major bus companies and outlying island ferries committed to the system, other transport operators have now approached Creative Star Limited, the non-profit company that administers Octopus, to talk about how they can join. The deputy chairman of the Legco Transport Panel, Lau Kong Wah, says major mini-bus companies are concerned about whether the system is cost effective for the 16-seaters. Costing more than $10,000 apiece, the Octopus charges a tiny fraction of each transaction. So it would be hard for the mini-bus operators to do the volume necessary to justify the purchase. Okay, that's a legitimate fear. But it's something that can be worked out; the most pressing need is to make our overall public transport system faster and more effective. Brian Chambers, the general manager of Octopus, said less expensive installations were being considered for taxis and mini-buses. Costs are a mere one per cent of a transaction and easier locations for downloading the electronic codes that trigger payment are being worked out; fuel stations are logical sites under examination. If we Hongkongers think the system tough, what must poor bewildered visitors think? Imagine you are here for your first visit, trying to get from Happy Valley to the new Museum of Science in Tsim Sha Tsui East. You've got just about every form of transport known to man as an option - except camel caravan - to make the journey. You need a basketful of small coins for trams, mini-buses, ferries, buses and the MTR. Good luck, and where will you go for your next holiday? Can't we make it easier for tourists to get about? Shouldn't we be concentrating on that, as well? I refuse to believe the problems involved can't be easily overcome. To my surprise - and no doubt to the equal surprise of what few tourists we still welcome - visitors can buy an Octopus at Chek Lap Kok, use it while they are here, then redeem it when they leave. I'm prepared to bet my own Octopus that 99 per cent of visitors know nothing about this. Shouldn't we be taking active moves to tell them before arrival, in co-operation with airlines and the HKTA? What's important, however, is that Hongkongers know. There are now an astonishing 4.7 million cards in use; more than a billion transactions worth $7 billion have been done since the system was introduced in September, 1997. How on earth did we ever live without this electronic magic wand?