Hands off Hong Kong's unique trams

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 August, 2015, 1:33am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 August, 2015, 1:33am

Hong Kong trams are unique. Affectionately known as the "Ding Ding" because of the sound produced, they are the world's only fully double-deck fleet still in service after more than a century. With some 180,000 passengers hopping on and off every day, these green-coloured carriages are as much a popular mode of transport as an icon of the city.

It was therefore puzzling when former government planner Sit Kwok-keung filed an application to the land use authority to have the most popular tram section scrapped. The former official, now running a consultancy firm, believed that congestion in Central and Admiralty could be eased by freeing the lanes currently taken up by trams. The proposal immediately sparked a public uproar.

Given the trams' popularity and history, the government is unlikely to take such a sense-defying idea seriously. But officials' silence in the early days has fuelled speculation. It was not until last week that the government issued a press statement upholding the role of trams.

What sets trams apart from other transport is their functional and heritage value. Their convenience and low fares make them popular among office workers, schoolchildren, housewives and tourists alike. There is nothing else that is as eco-friendly, affordable and reliable. That said, the service still has room for improvement. The French operator Veolia has yet to make good its promise of a makeover for all carriages.

If there is any gain from the debate, it will be putting traffic congestion on the public agenda. It is true that we have far too many vehicles running on the roads. The situation is aggravated by chauffer-driven limousines idling or running around while waiting for their bosses. Buses calling at bus stops along the road are also slowing down the traffic. A joint study by the Institute of Planners has proposed the opposite - turning part of Des Voeux Road into a tram-and-pedestrian-only zone. This may be a good way to ease traffic congestion.