Early budget blues meant end of the line for cross-harbour bridge

Would less of Victoria Harbour have been reclaimed from the sea if a suspension bridge had been built from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon?

A bridge from Hong Kong Island to Jordan, carrying trams, was planned in the 1920s, a local historian says, but a lack of money and the rise of buses in the 1930s saw the plan withdrawn.

Hong Kong was a poor city at the time. It took five years for the Legislative Council to allocate HK$8,000 to buy a clock to put on the clock tower, still located outside Tsim Sha Tsui ferry pier, in 1915.

Roger Ho Yao-sheng, who has written a history of trams in Hong Kong, said the bridge plan was withdrawn because the project was considered too expensive.

'It was found out that it was much more difficult to build tram tracks in Kowloon than on Hong Kong Island owing to the different geographical characteristics,' he said.

'On Hong Kong Island, the tram track could easily be built following the harbour line. But in Kowloon, it was much more complicated, even if it was built along Nathan Road.'

When buses started to operate in the 1930s, the bus system came to be considered the major form of transport in Kowloon and the tram plan was never mentioned again.

Historian Cheng Po-hung has collected hundreds of pictures of early Hong Kong transport over the past 10 years, about 100 of which are on display at an exhibition at the University of Hong Kong's University Museum and Art Gallery.

While Mr Cheng was studying the pictures, he discovered that the Peak tram, which went into operation in 1888, was the first mechanical public transport in Hong Kong.

'The Peak tram, which is now mostly used by tourists, was part of the tram system on Hong Kong Island,' Mr Cheng said.

'There were two classes of tickets. It cost 30 cents for the rich and 18 cents for servant class in 1930s. The servant class tickets system lasted until the 1960s.'

He also found out that the government planned to build a tram line in Kowloon in the 1910s.

'Actually, there were tram tracks already built in Tsim Sha Tsui in 1897 for transportation of goods,' he said. 'These tracks were built on land owned by Wharf, which is where Ocean Terminal is now.'

He said demand for buses had changed since the MTR was introduced in the late 1970s.

'We can see pictures showing many people waiting for buses in the 1940s and 1950s,' Mr Cheng said. 'There was a saying, 'Waiting bus stone' [you waited for so long that you turned to stone] at that time.'

Mr Ho said he thought that transport fees were relatively much higher nowadays.

'Salaries have not changed much, but transport fees have kept on increasing from the early 90s,' he said

The early Hong Kong transport exhibition will continue at the university museum, next to HKU's main entrance on Bonham Road, until June 28.