Public Transport

Red Taxi, Green Taxi

Green taxiRather confusingly, there are several red taxis driving around Hong Kong dressed up as green taxis.

In Hong Kong we have red “urban taxis” that have higher fares and can operate everywhere except the south part of Lantau island.

Green taxis can only operate in the more northerly parts of the New Territories (such as Tai Po and Tuen Mun), and the east (Ma On Shan and Sai Kung, but excluding Tseung Kwan O).  Here's the map (pdf).

They can also go to a few special locations (e.g. Tsing Yi and Tseun Wan MTR stations, the airport, some hospitals, Disneyland, Sha Tin racecourse) and on some highways.  Details are here.

end of New Territories taxis operating areaIf you look closely when you are travelling around Hong Kong, you might notice the signs showing roads that are prohibited for green taxis.

Apparently there are only 75 blue Lantau taxis (operating on Lantau Island and Chek Lap Kok).

It’s an odd system.  If you live at the edge of the New Territories taxi zone and want to go out of that zone, you either have to wait for a red taxi, take a specific route (e.g. to Tseun Wan MTR), or negotiate with the driver of a green taxi to take you somewhere he’s not supposed to go.  Or take a minibus.     

So it’s rather strange that an advertiser is allowed to turn a red taxi into a green taxi.


Wrong MTR station names

Many MTR stations have really confusing “English” names on the official maps.

尖沙咀 appears as “Tsim Sha Tsui" on signs.  Good luck trying to pronounce that - and if your valiant effort is “Sim Sha Chewy” you won’t be understood by locals because it's actually more like "Jim Sa Joy".

紅磡 is shown as “Hung Hom”, but really it’s Hong Ham, which I always find confusing.

旺角 isn’t “Mong Kok” (as the MTR would have you believe), it’s "Wong Gok". 

上水 isn’t “Sheung Shui”, it’s something like “song soy”,

Some are more or less correct (at least to my tin ear), such as: 葵芳 Kwai Fong and nearby 葵興 Kwai Hing, and others are probably close enough, though it would help if you pronounce

  • 大 as “dai” (not “tai” as the MTR have it), 
  • 沙 as “sa” or “za” (not “sha”),
  • 上 as “soeng” (not “sheung”)

But why can’t we have simple Romanization that's easy to understand?


Man “falls on to tracks”

On Thursday I was on the southbound KCR (sorry, that’s the MTR East Rail Line) when the train came to a halt in the Beacon Hill Tunnel just north of Kowloon Tong station. 

Cue the usual announcement about a train being in the platform at the next station, but it soon became apparent that this was something more serious.  The MTR website eventually announced that there was “a trespasser at Kowloon Tong station”, though there was a less euphemistic version (now deleted) from @mtrupdate (an unofficial source of news about the MTR train service).

After about 25 minutes the train reversed slowly back to Tai Wai station, where there was no service in either direction and long queues for taxis.

The Hong Kong Standard managed this top quality piece of journalism:

East Rail services disrupted after man falls onto tracks dies

Train services on East Rail Line were disrupted for about 30 minutes after a man in his 50s fell onto the tracks at Kowloon Tong station.

The middle-aged man was certified dead by emergency services at the scene.

At about 13:46pm this afternoon, the MTR Corporation said normal train service is gradually resuming after the person has been removed from the track area at the station.

Trains between Hung Hom and Sha Tin station were suspended.

The grammar! The tenses!  “13:46 pm this afternoon”.  And the interruption was actually close to an hour, rather than 30 minutes.  But I can’t find anything at all from the SCMP.

When does the MTR plans to install platform screen doors on the East Rail line?  It seems that this will have to wait for the much-delayed (and misleadingly named) Sha Tin to Central link:

Delays on MTR link, lack of platform doors seen as suicide risk 

Sunday, 14 December, 2014

Delays to the long-awaited Sha Tin-to-Central link could have a human cost, suicide-prevention experts warned as they called on the MTR Corporation to speed up installation of platform safety doors at stations.

A total of 22 stations on the East Rail and Ma On Shan lines still lack doors, leaving open access to the track. They will be installed as part of the work on the new railway, which is due to open in 2018 but is behind schedule.

From 2005 to April this year, 27 people took their own lives on stations run by the former KCR - including all of those without platform doors. In the same period, Transport Bureau figures show, nine people killed themselves at other MTR stations, with none since 2011.

[..] A spokeswoman for the MTR said gates would be installed on the two lines during the Sha Tin-to-Central project, which would involve platform modifications and a new signalling system.

"As some East Rail Line stations are about 100 years old, the platform structure has to be strengthened and the curvature at some platforms has to be adjusted," she said.

But with the HK$80 billion project 11 months behind schedule - in part because of the discovery of relics at the To Kwa Wan station site - Yip fears more unnecessary deaths.

"We have talked to the MTR for almost a decade and it is a matter of urgency now," he said. "When you go to Kowloon Tong or Sha Tin, there is quite a bit of risk … there are more cases at these two stations."

Kowloon Tong station is less than 40 years old (and very busy), so why not start there?


MTR rules, rules, rules

Last time I was in London, I didn’t swipe my card correctly and so I got charged for several “incomplete journeys”.  I filled in an online form explaining what had happened, and received a refund a day or two later.  Great service.

Then, back in Hong Kong I went to meet my wife on an MTR platform, but she wasn’t feeling well so we exited the station.  I was charged HK$9.8 - it turned out I had been in the station for 22 minutes, and if you enter and leave at the same station more than 20 minutes later they charge you HK$10.

I fully understand why they have this charge, but it is slightly ridiculous because if you want to circumvent it you simply travel (let’s say) from Wan Chai to Tsuen Wan and straight back to Admiralty and you will only pay HK$4.5.

Anyway, I tried to explain the circumstances to the station staff, but of course (this being Hong Kong) they have to fill in a form.  A few days later I get a letter explaining the relevant MTR byelaws and hoping that this clarifies the situation.


Hong Kong not so good–MTR interchanges

The MTR “train trip planner” recommends that for early and late departures from East Rail stations to the airport you should go via Hung Hom, Nam Cheong & Tsing Yi.  This seems like bad advice, because it requires you to use two of the worst interchanges on the MTR:

imageAt Nam Cheong, you can stroll across from a northbound West Rail service to a southbound Tung Chung line train (towards Central), but if you want to switch to the northbound service (to get to or from the airport) it takes five minutes to go down, across and then up again.

imageAt Tsing Yi, the Tung Chung line and Airport Express tracks run parallel to each other (picture from here).  But here there’s not even one cross-platform interchange - you need to go all the way down to the ground level, cross under the tracks and then go all the way back up again.  Which probably takes 5 minutes. Would it really have been so difficult to provide a simpler and quicker cross-platform interchange?

Of course there are plenty of very good interchanges.  To switch between the Kwun Tong line and the Tsuen Wan line you simply have to walk across the platform at either Mong Kok (same direction) or Prince Edward (opposite directions).  But you should ignore this misinformation

Or there’s Yau Tong, North Point or Lai King.  Here, the most common interchanges are cross-platform, with a short walk up or down if you are going in the other direction.

Admiralty (plan) is good for the Tsuen Wan line to Island Line, but now there’s also the South Island Line, which is 3 or 4 levels down (past the so-called Sha Tin to Central link platforms, opening not very soon).

Others are not quite so easy.  You’ll have a long walk at Quarry Bay (or a long wait for a lift), but North Point is an easier alternative for most journeys. 

Kowloon Tong is a very busy interchange with a bit of a walk from one line to the other, and the layout is somewhat confusing.  It was designed as an interchange station - the Kowloon Canton Railway (KCR - now known as MTR East Rail) started operating in 1910, Kowloon Tong station KCR station only opened in 1982, a couple of years after the MTR station - but the physical layout of the two lines makes it difficult to do any more. 

imageAs an alternative you can change to West Rail at Hung Hom (not bad - cross-platform interchanges available, if you don’t mind waiting sometimes) and then again at Tsim Sha Tsui but that’s really two separate stations for East Rail and the Tsuen Wan Line (to be fair, it’s shown quite clearly on MTR maps).

The normal route from East Rail stations to the airport is via Kowloon Tong, Prince Edward, Lai King & Tsing Yi.  That’s one one extra change, but two of them are simple cross-platform interchanges.  It’s also clearly a more direct route. 


MTR to increase Airport Express fares

From Hong Kong Free Press:

MTR Airport Express to increase fares for the first time in its history in June

Hong Kong’s Airport Express MTR line is set to increase fares by 10.3 percent in June – the first fee hike since it came into operation in 1998.

According to a Tuesday Legislative Council document, fares for journeys between the airport and the city proper, paid using an Octopus card, are set to rise by HK$5-HK$10. [..]

The MTR has never adjusted fees for the Airport Express, except in 2000 and 2001 when it cancelled discounts introduced at the time of the line’s opening.

Well, that’s not quite true.  Last year they increased the prices for the group tickets by around 12%, as noted here (Hong Kong not so good–Airport Express).


Sha Tin to Central Link misinformation

More misinformation from the MTR:

“The Sha Tin to Central Link (SCL) is a strategic railway line that stretches from Tai Wai to Admiralty”.  It really isn’t! 

image

What they are actually doing is linking up the Ma On Shan line and West Rail (through East Kowloon, in brown on the graphic) and extending East Rail from Hung Hom to Admiralty (in blue on the graphic). 

Yeah, OK, I’ve written about this before.


MTR fail

Confusing (wrong) information on the signs above the platform screen doors on the MTR’s Kwun Tong Line:

20170221_150808

You don’t change at Mong Kok to go to Tsuen Wan – for that you’ll want Prince Edward.

Likewise, if you want to change to the Tsuen Wan line towards Central you should do that at Mong Kok. 

Fortunately this wrong information is only on the platform for trains going towards Tiu Keng Leng, which is why it’s in grey rather than black, but still….


Red minibuses

Interesting article from the BBC about red minibuses in Hong Kong

Things I already knew: red minibuses don’t follow fixed routes, and are very dangerous.

Things I learned from this: red minibuses first appeared in 1967; green minibuses started in 1980; the government wants to phase out red minibuses and replace them with the more regulated green version.

Hop aboard Hong Kong Kong's wildest ride

In a city with one of the world's best public transport networks, the cheap, fast, accident-prone red minibus survives.

The former British colony has the world’s largest fleet of double-decker buses, 18,000 taxis, and a spotless, efficient subway system known as the MTR. And yet, every day, thousands of people opt to ride one of the 1,138 red-topped, 16-seat Toyota Coaster minibuses that are notorious not only for their speed, but for their eccentric drivers, unregulated fares, and tendency to smash into other vehicles.

It’s a system that dates back to 1967, when the Cultural Revolution spilled over the border from China. Left-wing agitators were intent on overthrowing the colonial British government, and Hong Kong was crippled by protests, strikes and riots. When drivers from the city’s major bus companies went on strike, shared taxis that had long served the rural New Territories began to illegally pick up passengers in the urban areas of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The colonial government decided to legalize this additional service.

Today, the government mandates the number of seats and the type of vehicle that may be used as minibuses, which it refers to officially as “public light buses.” Other than that, drivers are free to determine their own routes and fares. Drivers are free agents who rent the vehicles for a shift — the going rate is HK$800 per day — which gives them extra incentive to drive quickly and pick up as many passengers as possible.


Hong Kong not so good–Airport Express

Well, not really - the Airport Express is generally very good.

The trains now terminate at Asiaworld-Expo, which is odd for an airport express, but it brings the MTR some additional revenue and normally it doesn’t create a problem

Except when, after a concert, the trains arrive at the airport full of passengers.

That means standing room only, and sometimes barely even that.

That’s not good enough when you are paying a premium fare.  A one-way Airport Express ticket to Hong Kong station costs $100.  Fares for events at Asiaworld-Expo are significantly cheaper (e.g. $36 each way to Hong Kong station if you use your Octopus card and make a return trip, which is what most people will do).

OK, the Airport Express do offer many different discounts, but the best deal from the airport is still around $70 - double the AsiaWorld-Expo price (and many people either don’t qualify for discounts, or don’t know about them).

And, yes they did recently increase the price of group tickets by around 12%.  They seem to have kept that quiet.

Given that there is plenty of spare capacity, couldn’t they run extra trains, starting at the airport?  Or restrict the Asiaworld-Expo passengers to one half of the train and put airport passengers in the other half?  They have done that in the past when there were big exhibitions (though that is different, because you don’t get a surge of people at one time).

Not only are the trains full, but there are then very long queues for taxis at AE stations – which is not what you want when you have spent several hours traveling to Hong Kong.  The solution for that should be even simpler – surely taxi drivers would respond if they knew there was demand?