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Cool ride: Hong Kong tram operator offers air-conditioned car

Three-month trial scheme meant to boost ridership amid hot weather

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 June, 2016, 1:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 June, 2016, 7:42pm

Hong Kong’s iconic trams are getting a timely upgrade as one car offers air conditioning to beat the scorching summer heat.

From Monday, passengers will be able to hop on tram number 88, the trial car for the pilot scheme.

While the “cooler tram” is easily distinguishable by its light blue livery, passengers will need an ounce of luck to catch it as its timetable and routes are to be random, just like other tram cars.

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Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was among the first passengers to try out the new trams. He wrote on his blog on Friday that he went out for a ride the same day with the Commissioner for Transport Ingrid Yeung Ho Poi-yan.

“Trams are our collective memories. When I was young, I lived in the police quarters in Sai Ying Pun. The long corridor faced the tram tracks and I heard the trams coming through all the time,” he wrote.

“It seems that the designs of the trams have not changed in decades. There is still no air conditioning inside the trams. You open the windows during the summer and the seats got wet when it rains.”

Fares during the three-month trial will be the same as for non-air-conditioned cars.

Speaking at the launch event on Thursday, Hong Kong Tramways managing director Emmanuel Vivant said the upgrade was meant to address the company’s declining ridership in recent years.

Since the MTR’s West Island line came into operation in late 2014, around 180,000 trips daily were made on the century-old transport system, compared to 200,000 previously.

Senior engineering manager Steven Chan Si-yiu said three temperature settings of 23, 25 and 27 degrees Celsius would be used during the trial and that passengers would be surveyed either on board or online to find out which setting to adopt.

He revealed it costs HK$250,000 to retrofit an air-conditioning system in a car. The company did not rule out a fare hike if more air-conditioned cars were added in the future.

Apart from financial considerations, Chan said overhead power lines could only accommodate seven to eight air-conditioned cars in the network and that each car must be separated to avoid drawing too much electricity at one spot and bringing down the grid.

Asked how much more electricity an air-conditioned tram draws, he said there was a “significant” difference, but stopped short of providing figures.

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If the trial is extended to the current fleet of 163 trams, power substations would need to be built along the tracks to boost power voltage, Chan said.

Plans to air-condition trams surfaced as early as 2000, but were shelved due to technical issues. The air conditioner to debut June 6 adds 505kg to each car, compared to 836kg for the prototype.

The company dismissed claims that safety concerns were behind the scheme’s delay, after the same tram was spotted on the streets performing trials last year.

It said by the time a permit was granted by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department last year, the summer season had passed and there was no point conducting the trial in winter.

On Thursday, the Observatory issued a “very hot weather” warning, forecasting temperatures could hit 34 degrees.