Previous month:
April 2004
Next month:
June 2004

Self-interest rules (pt 94)

Last Friday there was another demonstration by transport operators who want to protect their own interests and prevent new railway lines being built. The Standard reports that taxi and minibus drivers and owners are against the proposed South Island and West Island MTR lines.

Noting the HK$5 million daily loss incurred by the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation's West Rail, the transport industry representatives said the proposed railway would end up following the same pattern as a result of inadequate demand. They also said the railway would make it extremely difficult for them to earn their living on Hong Kong Island. If the railway became reality, they claimed the public would face less choice and end up paying more.

Bus companies are also against the new lines, claiming that the passenger numbers projected by the MTRC are not realistic. Lyndon Rees, managing director of both Citybus and New World First Bus, is not keen on competition:

Fares for bus routes on Hong Kong Island now average around HK$5 per trip. Rees said 300 buses and more than 1,000 staff belonging to the two franchised bus companies might face redundancy, if the proposed rail lines became a reality. He said the two companies' existing bus services could only bring marginal profits and further contraction could make the viability of their operations questionable.

Oh, right. Building two new MTR lines might mean that the bus companies would be forced to close down all their operations on Hong Kong island. Makes you wonder how they manage to compete with the existing MTR Island Line. What a load of old nonsense.

It's not surprising that West Rail should be used as evidence here. However, there is a big difference. WR was built partially to cope with a growing population in the NW New Territories, and growth has been slower than government projections, whereas the two proposed MTR lines on HK Island are being built in areas where few new developments are planned and the population is stable. So even if we accept that mistakes were made in planning West Rail, different considerations apply here. Yes, of course it will take traffic away from buses, minibuses and taxis, and it will reduce private car usage, but that is line with the government's transport policy.

Residents and business owners in the area want the new lines, and we have to hope that the loud noise created by a few self-interested competitors will not influence legislators or the government when it is time to make a decision.

2 for 1

Surrey haven't made the best of starts to the cricket season. In fact, until a week ago they hadn't won a single game in any competition, and had been beaten by Ireland in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy (if you don't follow the game it might seem odd that an English county should play a whole country - and be strong favourites to win - but that's cricket). Then they won a game in the Totesport League Division One (what used to be called the Sunday League).

This week they have been playing in the County Championship against Kent, who were top of the table at the beginning of the week. Surrey had a terrible start, losing two wickets for just one run, and it looked as if they were heading for another defeat. It was not to be, and they recovered to score 479, forced Kent to follow-on, and won fairly easily. Tough luck on Robert Key, who scored 199 for Kent but to no avail.

Remarkably, Surrey are now 3rd in the table, just 5 points off the lead, so perhaps this season isn't going to be too bad after all.

C for cold

As Harry would say, damn the Internet with all its informative web sites. I have been taking Vitamin C every day for quite a long time, but I read this article saying that there is no evidence that it is effective, so I thought I would stop for a while. Inevitably, a couple of days of days later I went down with what doctors call URTI, and everyone else calls a cold (or the flu if you are being melodramatic).


He's back

Henry is back from Singapore "for a day or two". He notes one of the most irritating aspects of that otherwise fairly efficient city-state - taxis. Many is the time I have been standing in a queue waiting for a taxi and hoping that I wouldn't be late for a meeting or miss my flight home.

I have to agree with Henry on this: Hong Kong is so much better - cabs are available almost everywhere at any time of the day or night.

Don't understand

I hope someone can explain this to me. Simon posted a comment about his tax dollars, highlighting a rather old story about Hong Kong making a loan to Thailand and seemingly linking it to their madcap scheme to buy 30% of Liverpool FC. Then Conrad picked up the story and complained about his tax dollars.

What is puzzling is that this loan was repaid with interest a year ago, as pointed out in the link that Simon himself published!

Or perhaps Simon is on holiday and has outsourced his blog to someone who writes any old rubbish to fill up the space.

Don't believe what you read in the newspapers

These days, if you visit a large shopping mail in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand or many other Asian countries, you are likely to see many familiar international names. Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Ikea, Toys R Us, Carrefour, Wal Mart, HMV and many others have established themselves in the region. Some operate independently, others have significant local partners. There have, of course, been some failures along the way - Carrefour never got a foothold in Hong Kong and eventually gave up. BHS (once known as British Home Stores) also abandoned Hong Kong, as did Virgin Records. M&S tried to find a local partner to run its Hong Kong stores, then changed its mind and 'localised' the management instead.

Boots is a very well-known retail chain in the UK that has diversified away from its original roots as a chemist (pharmacist, drug store) and recently ran into a few problems in the UK (from which it finally seems to be recovering). What I hadn't realized was that they were also expanding internationally.

So when I first went to Bangkok, I was rather surprised to find a small Boots branch in the shopping arcade that adjoined the hotel (a rather less than prime location). It turned out they had quite a lot of branches around the city, though they didn't seem to be particularly successful. It came as no surprise that last year the management in the UK decided to cut their losses in Thailand and shut many of the outlets. Around the same time they set up a deal with Watsons to sell a limited range of Boots brand products in a fairly small number of stores in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

So I was rather surprised to read this in The Guardian:

Boots ambitious overseas division, retail international, reported a sales increase of 16.1%, with 17 new branches opening in Thailand and 15 in Hong Kong.

That didn't sound right. So I checked their official announcement:

17 new implants were opened in Taiwan and 15 in Hong Kong. Like for like sales in Thailand were up 16%.

The journalist somehow managed to confuse Taiwan and Thailand and thought that "implants" meant new stores. Not so clever.

Further research reveals that in Thailand they are partnering with TOPS supermarkets and closing most of their own stores. This 16% "like for like" increase presumably means that they focused on a smaller number of stores and managed to increase sales there, but the overall sales growth must have come from "implants" (horrible word) in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Not a bad achievement, but I think "modest" might be a better word for their strategy rather than "ambitious".


From the Sunday Times, in a report on the FA Cup Final:

It was not a good day for the romance of the Cup. Devalued by clubs more interested in the filthy lucre to be obtained from the Champions League, the tournament needs no-contests like this one like Canton needs another Chinese restaurant.

Canton? Who calls it Canton these days? Writers from British newspapers who are trying to be clever, I suppose. Would it be churlish to point out there is probably not a single restaurant in Guangzhou that would describe itself as 'Chinese'?

Like a wet market

Has Hemlock had been drafted in by Selina Chow to write her speeches? The legislator and chairwoman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board complained that a proposed new bus terminal "looks like a wet market". Would that be like the wet market in Wan Chai that some people want to preserve? Presumably not...

It does make sense to move the bus station to the same site as the new KCR station, and to tidy up the area in front of the Star Ferry at the same time, though a more radical suggestion in today's SCMP is that they should also move the Star Ferry terminal to be adjacent to the KCR station (and bus terminal). Of course, a long time ago, the old KCR terminus in TST was close to the Star Ferry, in the days before the MTR when crossing the harbour was more of a challenge than it is today.

I supsect most people in TST will just be happy when all the construction work for the KCR is completed and life returns to something like normal.

Off the Rails

The MTRC is pressing the government to support the planned West and South Island lines. They are asking the government to grant them property development rights at one of the planned stations, which will provide some of the cash they need, but they also want HK$6bn from the government.

The MTRC is a strange organization - Jake van der Kamp described it as a property company that also runs trains. The KCRC is more of a conventional railway operator, which explains why it was the MTRC that was privatised and why there are still doubts about the plan to merge the two organizations.

The KCRC is having a few problems with West Rail, announcing a reduced profit forecast, whilst taxi drivers and minibus operators have concerns regarding the planned Sha Tin - Central line.

What struck me was that one of reasons the KCR gave for the drop in profits (as reported in the SCMP at least) was competition from buses, whilst on the other hand we have other transport operators worried that they would suffer if another KCR line was built. As ever, we find the different operators blaming each other for their problems.

Continue reading "Off the Rails" »