A new section of Hong Kong’s MTR rail system opening on May 15 will allow commuters to get from parts of the New Territories to Central faster, with savings along some routes, but bus operators are dreading their loss of business. The cross-harbour Hung Hom-Admiralty section of the Sha Tin to Central MTR link is expected to result in thousands switching from bus to rail. The rail section, also known as the cross-harbour extension of the East Rail line, will be the fourth cross-harbour railway route directly connecting the northeastern New Territories, central Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. It will allow commuters to reach the city’s commercial and financial hub in Wan Chai North and Admiralty without switching lines and changing trains. What can commuters expect from cross-harbour section of Hong Kong rail link? Raising the concerns of major bus and minibus operators, lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said KMB, Citybus and New World First Bus (NWFB) expected to lose an overall daily ridership of at least 100,000 when the new section opens. “They will suffer an exodus of passengers. Just for the Cross-Harbour Tunnel routes at Hung Hom station, the bus operators told me, they will lose 30,000 passengers every day during peak hours,” he said. “The bus operators will suffer losses for at least five years before they can see any glimpse of hope from the new town development in Kwu Tung in 2027.” For commuters, switching from buses and minibuses to the expanded East Rail line will be an easy choice. Travel times will be shorter and some will pay less by train than they do to take the bus along some routes. For example, a bus ride on KMB route 673 from Sheung Shui in the New Territories to Admiralty costs HK$25.60, but MTR commuters will pay HK$21 on the East Rail line. The train trip will take just 40 minutes, compared with as much as an hour and 40 minutes by bus. With a new signalling system, the railway will run at 2.7-minute intervals during peak hours, with journeys between Tai Wai, in the Sha Tin district of the New Territories, and Admiralty taking only 17 minutes without commuters having to change trains at an interchange, 11 minutes faster than using indirect routes. Anticipating a significant loss of ridership, a spokeswoman for Bravo Transport Services, owner of Citybus and NWFB, said: “At present, the cross-harbour bus routes have been the main source of income of Citybus and NWFB. The cross-harbour section of the East Rail line will severely impact our revenue.” She said they hoped to retain passengers by offering interchange discounts of HK$2 per trip on five bus routes from Exhibition Centre rail station, including a new route 1M between the station and Wong Nai Chung Gap via Happy Valley. Citybus and NWFB have been suffering losses of around HK$25 million (US$3.2 million) a month amid the pandemic, and Bravo shareholders injected an additional HK$337 million last year to keep services running. Citybus and NWFB account for about 30 per cent of Hong Kong’s franchised bus operations, with a 1,700-strong fleet and more than 210 routes. A KMB spokeswoman said the company had asked the Transport Department for a review of bus routes between New Territories East and Kowloon, including four which would be hit the hardest by the new rail extension. Cross-harbour section of Hong Kong rail link to fully open on May 15 KMB, the city’s largest franchised bus operator, manages more than 420 routes with an average daily ridership of 2.44 million and made a net profit of HK$101.4 million last year. Lawmaker Tien, former chairman of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC), said bus operators had to explore new routes in new towns or housing estates without nearby rail stations, and ask the Transport Department to reduce some bus services to rein in costs. He expected bus companies to rebound in five years, when the first phase of the Kwu Tung new town development in Fanling, in the New Territories, was expected to be completed, with a population of more than 110,000. Other new town projects would follow. “By that time the East Rail line will be overcrowded and passengers may turn to buses again to go to Kowloon and Hong Kong,” he said. Chau Kwok-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Taxi and Public Light Bus Association, said minibuses took a beating when the MTR’s Tuen Ma line opened in June last year, with routes between Hung Hom and Mong Kok or Kowloon City hit hard. The opening of the new cross-harbour rail line would hit them again, he said. The city has about 4,228 minibuses. Chau urged the Transport Department to take back 21 bus routes being run by the rail operator, the MTR Corporation, and hand them to minibuses to operate. “There is no need for the MTR Corp to run bus routes,” he said. Quentin Cheng Hin-kei, spokesman of the commuter concern group Public Transport Research Team, agreed the rail extension was a good thing for commuters but was concerned about the healthy overall development of public transport. If people flocked to the MTR, he said, the rail system would be overloaded. The city needed a diversified public transport service to cater to the different needs of people, and he pointed out that buses had some advantages over trains. “The good thing about buses is their comfort and convenience,” he said. Acknowledging the impact of the new rail link on buses, especially those run by Citybus and NWFB, he said the government could help by subsidising underused bus routes. “Apart from exploring new routes in new towns, the Transport Department should allocate some KMB routes to Citybus and NWFB to raise their competitiveness,” he said. Hong Kong to get first electric double-decker bus designed for hilly terrain The department said it anticipated commuters’ travelling patterns and demand would change significantly with the opening of the cross-harbour rail section. As a result, it was cancelling cross-harbour bus route 301 from May 15, and would also consider scrapping special departure bus services at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel in phases. “The Transport Department will also closely monitor the operation of relevant franchised bus services … and make suitable service adjustments subject to actual passenger demand, so as to achieve more effective use of public transport resources, enhance service network efficiency and improve service quality,” it said.