Enthusiasts lament the disappearance of old-style buses

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 August, 2004, 12:00am

Government is urged to preserve the rattletraps in a museum

They may be hot, noisy and rough to ride on, but the rapidly vanishing non-air-conditioned bus is a Hong Kong icon that conjures nostalgic memories of a bygone era.

That is why transport enthusiasts are urging the government to help preserve some of the historic rattletraps before they are gone from the city forever.

About 15 fans have bought their own buses but, with limited finances, it is a struggle to maintain and store the vehicles.

Bus Fan World chief public relations officer David Ho said Hong Kong buses were a legend.

'We have the world's largest bus transport system ... the government should conserve examples of our old buses,' he said. 'They are our history. With the rate buses are being replaced, the old ones will disappear within two years.'

But Kowloon Motor Bus, which has 700 of the non-air-conditioned variety in its 4,290-strong fleet of buses, said they would not vanish so quickly. Only 100 to 200 were being replaced each year, a spokeswoman said.

Mr Ho and other enthusiasts have urged the government to build a bus museum.

'Many people love to see buses, and each year a rally in England attracts lots of people. A bus museum will attract people to Hong Kong,' he said.

Hong Kong Transport Society honorary secretary Lee Tin-yau and historian Joseph Ting Sun-pao said they hoped the government would step in before the old buses were gone forever.

'Buses are part of our history and collective memory,' said Dr Ting, chief curator of the Hong Kong Museum of History. 'We have all ridden the buses. We have grown up with them and have feelings for them.'

The replacement of non-air conditioned buses sped up in 1998 when New World First Bus took over China Motor Bus and swiftly replaced its ageing fleet. This forced other companies to follow suit, Mr Lee said.

KMB reconditions some old buses and ships them to Britain as school buses but the rest are scrapped.

While KMB said it had no information on how many of its buses had been scrapped, New World First Bus, which has a fleet of almost 800 buses, said all its non-air-conditioned buses had been taken out of service and 700 scrapped.

English and Scottish bus companies have been preserving buses since the 1960s and several bus museums have opened since the 1970s. There are also bus museums in other countries, such as the US, Australia, Germany and Japan.

The Hong Kong Museum of History wanted to include buses in its Tsim Sha Tsui premises, completed in 1998, but lacked the space and government funding to do so.

Australian collector Andrew Haviland, owner of two Hong Kong double deckers, said it was a pity the city had no bus museum.

'I would love to help start a museum in Hong Kong but I think it may only be a dream,' said Mr Haviland, who sold 14 buses last year to buy the Hong Kong vehicles, which are still awaiting shipment to Australia for display in a museum.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it had no plans to build a bus museum.