Double dose of chaos for commuters

Getting to work yesterday morning proved a nightmare for commuters in the wake of Typhoon Vicente, with roads blocked by fallen trees and transport hubs struggling to cope.

After a night of chaos - during which taxi drivers ramped up fares as much as 10-fold - commuter misery began anew.

Long queues built up at bus stops and train stations after the storm signal was lowered from No 8 to No 3 at 10am.

At the peak of the rush between 11am and noon, more than a thousand people jammed the public transport interchange at Hung Hom station, with queues stretching the full length of the access bridges.

Uncertain which queue was which, most people just joined one long line, with many worried they could face penalties for being late.

A man heading for North Point said a 45-minute commute had taken him two hours and he hoped his boss would understand.

The crowd started to disperse when the buses became more frequent at noon.

As the storm moved in, French national and seven-year Hong Kong resident Maud Errera found getting a taxi was like bidding at an auction as she tried to get home from Des Voeux Road at about 10.30 pm.

She said drivers were charging from triple to 10 times the usual price.

'I turned down eight taxi drivers - who asked for between HK$250 and, in one case, HK$400 for a ride for which I usually pay HK$40 maximum,' said Errera, who finally paid HK$100 to get to Kennedy Town.

Diamond broker Shlomo Tidhar was surprised when the taxi driver charged him HK$250 for a trip from The Landmark in Central to Robinson Road, which should have cost about HK$30.

'I thought about giving him HK$100 when we arrived at the destination, but he refused to start the cab until I paid him the full amount.'

But a passenger who rode a taxi from Wan Chai to Kwun Tung after the No 8 signal was hoisted said he was charged HK$100 - HK$2.5 less than what was on the meter.

In Sai Kung, even before the typhoon 8 signal was removed at 10am, hundreds were queuing for buses. Wyman Fung was watching the time anxiously as he queued at 10.30am because he had to be in Wan Chai by 1pm to sit an examination at the Institute of Vocational Education.

'I think at this rate, I will get there just in time,' he said.

Textile worker Christian Stucke was in the Choi Hung minibus queue which was three times its usual length. He had been checking the Observatory website regularly for updates. 'I saw the signal was about to change and came down right away.

'Usually I have to wait for one or two buses, but I will probably have to wait for five or six today.'

Elsewhere in the New Territories, with roads blocked by fallen trees, many passengers switched to already jammed trains.

At Kowloon Tong, one of the busiest MTR interchanges, the crowd began shouting for MTR staff to keep order as they had trouble getting onto the escalator to the Kwun Tong line.

A man who lives in Sha Tin said it took him 40 minutes to get to Kowloon Tong, a trip that usually takes eight minutes.

'I don't usually take the MTR, but decided to do so to avoid the buses.'

MTR services at Admiralty station were at rush hour frequency after the No 8 signal was removed and massive crowds built up at transit platforms towards 11am.

'Train services were smooth but the trains were very crowded. I have to get back to the office within two hours after signal 8 is removed,' said architect assistant April Leung who was heading to Wan Chai.

On the radio, callers told of long journeys home the night before along roads blocked by trees.

A woman who lives on Route Twisk - the winding dual carriageway between Tsuen Wan and Pat Heung via Shek Kong - called one show at 9.30am. She said she had been on the road for five hours trying to get home from Tsuen Wan - usually a 10-minute drive - and still wasn't there.

'Although parts of many fallen trees have been chopped to free one lane for vehicles, the movement was still very slow,' she said.

She took a U-turn to use the Tai Lam Tunnel, but that route was also blocked by a fallen tree.