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Hong Kong Public Transportation

Chinese SAR of Hong Kong Has One of the World's Best Public Transit Systems


Hong Kong Tram and Bus

A tram and bus run through the Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, China.

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Hong Kong has one of the world's most impressive public transportation networks. Over 90% of the area's 11 million daily trips are made through the use of rail, buses, ferries, cable cars, and long distance outdoor escalators. The high level of mass transit ridership is attributed to the system's affordability and interconnectedness, and the city's compact, high-density urban design. According to Hong Kong's Department of Transportation, the average transfer time between mechanized transport modes is just three minutes and the mean walking time to one's destination from a transport mode is only four minutes.

Hong Kong's MTR

The Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is the backbone of Hong Kong's public transportation system, accounting for 37% of all trips made each day. It consists of nine primary lines (map) that that covers 109 miles. It is fast, convenient, and connects all of city's major territories.

Hong Kong consists of a peninsula and a series of islands. The two largest islands, Lantau and Hong Kong Island, are both connected to each other and to the mainland by a series of rail tunnels and bridges. The MTR stretches as far west as the Hong Kong International Airport and as far north as Shenzhen in China Proper. From Hong Kong, passengers are able to travel to Guangdong province, Beijing, and even Shanghai by using the MTR's intercity railway services.

In addition to the mainline, the MTR also operates a series of light rails that services the northwestern portion of Hong Kong's New Territories. It is essentially a trolley system that runs alongside traffic and is powered by an overhead cable supply. It has a route length of 22.5 miles with 68 stops. It services an average of 430,000 passenger trips every day.

Unlike many other modes of public transportation, the operational reliability of MTR trains is unaffected by traffic conditions, so riders can expect to arrive at their destination at a specific time consistently. The system is operational for an extended 19 hours a day, 7 days a week, from 5:30am/6:00am to 1:00am the next morning. In contrast to many subway systems in the west, MTR stations are extremely efficient, clean, and safe. During peak hours, a single 8- car train on the MTR could carry over 70,000 passengers per hour. Trains are operated with automatic signal and protection systems which regulate the distance between trains, rates of acceleration, braking, and coasting speeds on different sections of a line. Recently, many of the stations in Hong Kong have constructed glass gates, which prevent the possibility of someone falling onto the track floor.

Hong Kong Ferries

As a coastal city and an archipelago, Hong Kong regularly operates ferry routes that connect all of its territories. The most utilized and popular of Hong Kong's ferry services is the Star Ferry. These boats have been carrying passengers from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and back for more than a hundred years. While the two sides are now connected by roads, bridges, and the MTR, tens of millions of people still ride the Star Ferry vessel across Victoria Harbor each year. Locals have continued their patronage due to its cheap fares and reliable service. A one- way trip only costs $2.50, with a frequency of departure every 8 to 20 minutes. The ride is free for young children and seniors aged 65 and up. For travelers, the Star Ferry ride is more of an experience. With its double deck structure, many visitors take the ride for an up-close look at one of the world's most photographed harbors. At night, the water illuminates from the metropolis's festival of light. National Geographic rated the crossing as one of its "50 places of a lifetime."

In addition to the Star Ferry, Hong Kong also has smaller "kai-to" ferries that transport residents to the city's various 230+ outlying islands. There are currently 78 fixed routes. Many of these islands are rural in nature, and farmers often utilize the kai-to to bring daily produce to the city proper. Hong Kong's ferry services transport an average of 49 million passengers each year.

Hong Kong's maritime interconnectedness is not limited to its territories. The former British colony is also linked to the former Portuguese colony of Macau- a Special Administrative Region, similar to Hong Kong- through a hydrofoil service. The hydrofoil can reach speeds of 40mph, often reaching Macau in approximately one hour. Due to the high interaction and demand between these two megacities, boats depart every 15 minutes. It is considered the most efficient mode of human transport between these two locations.

Buses, Gondolas, Funicular Tram, and Escalators

There are currently five franchised bus companies providing service across Hong Kong, operating more than 700 routes. Many of the buses are high capacity double-deckers, something that was leftover from the British colonial period. Many of the fixed routes take passengers directly to MTR and ferry stations, making it a well integrated system. There are also numerous non- franchised buses that are operated by schools, hotels, and businesses, in addition to the 4000 plus public minibuses.

Due to Hong Kong's mountainous topography, certain areas require non-traditional transportation means. As of 2006, a 3.5 mile gondola system was constructed on Lantau Island, taking passengers from the MTR station directly to the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha, several thousand feet above sea, with a travel time of just 25 minutes. Back on the main island, there is a funicular tram that transports residents and tourists to several stops along the way to Victoria Peak. This area was once home to the British elites. Today, it has become Hong Kong's number one tourist attraction, and continues to serve as one of the island's top real estate locations.

The world's longest outdoor covered escalator system is found in Hong Kong. Linking areas between the Western and Central districts, the Central-Mid-level escalators extend to collective 2,600 feet in length and 443 feet in height, which is actually equivalent to several miles of road, due to the twist-and-turn nature of the hilly terrain. This free public transportation system is crucial to the daily life of local commuters, servicing over 55,000 riders each day.

Hong Kong's Octopus Card

In order to manage payment for Hong Kong's multitude public transportation modes, the city introduced a rechargeable, contactless (magnetic/wirelesss) smart card that is accepted by all transportation companies. It is also accepted at most supermarkets, convenience stores, service stations, parking lots, and fast-food restaurants. The card does not require physical contact and often remain in the wallets or purses of the cardholder. Riders can simply walk through MTR station gates and the amount will be automatically deducted from the card. Walk next to an Octopus reader on the bus, ferry, or gondola, and your trip is paid for. There are more than 64,000 Octopus readers in Hong Kong, with 21 million cards in circulation. Processing over 12 million transactions a day, the Octopus Card has become a leader in complex automatic fare collection. London's Oyster Card is modeled after this Hong Kong innovation.

Thanks to the Octopus Card and Hong Kong's sophisticated public transportation network, the car ownership in the city is just 50 per 1,000 people in the population, just 10% of that in the United States, despite a comparable GDP per capita. This cohesive system has helped reduce traffic, while getting Hong Kong's 7 million people to where they need to be.

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