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?

Changing trains (Hong Kong MTR)

I’m always interested in other views of the MTR, including this one:

hong kong metro: five transfers??

I jumped onto Google looking for hotels that would be convenient to the rail line from the airport.  Yikes!

Is it my imagination, or am I seeing that:

  • Only three stations in the city are on the Airport line.
  • Only five additional stations can be reached in one transfer.
  • Some parts of the system (e.g. the Ma On Shan (MOL) line in the northeast) are five transfers from the Airport.

Don't airport lines, where people are hauling luggage, need to be designed so that they plug into the network with relatively few, well-designed transfers.

Not in London, where the Heathrow Express only takes you to Paddington.  OK, so Crossrail the Elizabeth Line will offer better (but slower) connections throughout Central London, when it opens in 2018. 

Not in Bangkok, either, which doesn’t even have one convenient connection.  Does Shanghai?

That’s a strange map of the MTR system, though.  The terminus of the Airport Express (Hong Kong station) is connected to Central station through an underground walkway.  This offers plenty of easy ways to get to the rest of Hong Kong island and most of Kowloon.

If you don’t mind waiting, the so-called Sha Tin to Central link will provide more simple interchanges – and if they ever finish the new train terminus in West Kowloon, it should be easy to walk from Kowloon station to Austin (on West Rail). 

Also, most major hotels can be reached through free shuttle buses from either Kowloon or Hong Kong station.  Or taxis are a good, reasonably priced option (although there can be long queues at Hong Kong station).

Let me just push past you–whoops

The MTR is a world-class public transport system.  The passengers – not so much.  Leading to everyday frustrations, with the occasional moment of madness.

Case one - trying to get off a crowded train.  Doors open.  I say “Mh Goi”, but no-one moves, so I have to force my way out through a crowd of bodies.

Case two - waiting to get off a very un-crowded East Rail train heading for Lo Wu.  Doors open.  Two passengers try to push past me.  I stand my ground. 

One of them actually fell down into the gap between the train and the platform.  I’m still not sure how they managed to do that, but I hope they had a safe journey back home.

Hong Kong not so good- HKIA North Satellite Concourse

There’s not too much wrong with Hong Kong International Airport.  Apart from the North Satellite Concourse, that is.

It was opened more than 5 years ago (for smaller planes such as the Airbus A320 / A321), and yet the only way to get there (or back) is by taking a shuttle bus across the apron….

…which is also used by large planes.

As the planes take priority, the buses often get delayed on the tarmac.  And it doesn’t take much for the whole system to grind to a halt.  Recently I had a lengthy wait for a bus to arrive, and then, once it departed, it moved just a few hundred metres - and we had to wait for another 7-8 minutes before it could continue the short journey to the North Satellite Concourse.  Total delay – around 20 minutes, and too much time spent standing on a crowded bus.  

The best solution from the smart people at HKIA is advice to passengers to allow extra time to get there.  Thanks a lot. 

Needless to say, it doesn’t have a lounge (there is a Starbucks if you want to pay for food and drink, which I don’t - thanks all the same).

Is this really an improvement on buses that go directly to planes parked a little further away (which they also still do)?

Stand still

The MTR have started painting feet on the escalators to show passengers where to stand (yes, really), and it seems that they are now encouraging people to stand still rather than walking up or down in that reckless way favoured by some:

Smiley®World Character dressed as Penguin to Promote Escalator Safety

MTR cares about your every journey. To enhance awareness of escalator safety, the Smiley®World character is back as a MTR ambassador with a new look to remind passengers how to ride the escalator safely to ensure a smooth and pleasant journey.

This time, the Smiley®World character appears as a penguin to encourage passengers to "Hold the handrail and stand still". Passengers are also reminded to "Stand still and keep away from the edge" when riding the escalator.

Through this Escalator Safety Campaign, MTR hopes that the smiley penguin will not only put a smile on your face, but also remind passengers how to ride escalators safely.

Smiley®World?  Penguin?  What’s going on?  There has been a flurry of correspondence in the SCMP:

Pointless plea on escalators

As we go up and down MTR escalators, the public address system dins in our ears that we should, "Please hold the handrail."

Holding the handrail is what people instinctively do if they are in danger of losing their balance; I have never seen or heard of accidents occurring because they are not held. Therefore, there is no need to constantly remind us to do so.

An exhortation much less frequently heard on escalators, if heard at all, is that passengers should "stand on the right". That in contrast is something people do need to be reminded of, or if they are strangers to orderly society, to be informed about.

It seems to be more the rule than the exception for couples or knots of people to occupy both sides of the escalator, so blocking the way of others who might be in a hurry, or just want exercise.

If the benefit of the travelling public, rather than self-protection, were top priority for the MTR Corporation, we should hear far less about holding handrails and far more about standing on the right.

David Pollard, Tai Po

And another a couple of days later:

Puzzling policy change by MTR

I read the letter from David Pollard ("Pointless plea on escalators", February 7) with interest and probably about the same level of confusion as he has, although on a different note.

I have noticed for some time that the MTR Corporation has been focusing on asking people to hold the handrail, but with the addition of asking passengers not to walk while on the escalator.

I have wondered if the MTR Corp is trying to move away from the original "stand on the right and walk on the left", by hoping people will just stand and not walk on the escalators at all.

I am sure there are safety reasons for this, and have certainly noticed that some escalators now have painted feet on the treads so that we stand and are not tempted to walk.

It is a bit confusing to Hongkongers who have been used to one way, and then have it changed without it being explicitly made clear.

Perhaps the MTR can comment further.

Callan Anderson, Quarry Bay

Never fear, we have Peter Lok to tell us that we foreigners should do as we are told:

Aim is to avert serious accident

David Pollard's view on MTR announcements is outmoded ("Pointless plea on escalators", February 7).

The latest advocated practice is no longer to stand on the right and let those in a hurry overtake, but for everybody to stand still and hold the handrail, so as to prevent the domino effect of people piling onto those in front in the event of a sudden stoppage of the escalator.

Especially on a long downward stretch, such as the one leading from the Taikoo Shing shopping mall to the MTR station, the result of someone not holding the handrail while being shot forward in the event of such a stoppage could be disastrous.

The plea is therefore, "Do not walk" as well as, "Hold the handrail". So, Mr Pollard, when in Rome, please do as the Romans.

Peter Lok, Chai Wan

But if this is the new policy, the MTR could at least make it completely clear.  Surely that wouldn’t be so difficult?  And maybe treat us like adults, eh?

East-West? No.

They print so many stupid letters in the SCMP, but this one is spectacular:

Combine two MTR rail lines

There has been much discussion (or rather negative feedback) from East Rail Line passengers after the West Rail Line was extended to Tsim Sha Tsui East while the East Rail Line now terminates at Hung Hom.

The change of terminus has caused problems for East Rail passengers, as it is now at an inconvenient location. Some people would rather change to the Central Line at Kowloon Tong, which makes that route even more crowded.

I think the best solution is for the MTR Corporation to merge the East and West lines. They would form an (almost) U-shaped route, from Lo Wu to Tuen Mun. There would not have to be a terminus in Tsim Sha Tsui East or Hung Hom.

I do not have the technical specifications of the trains, however, I think that modern-day locomotives should be able to run long distances. If the fatigue of the drivers is a concern, then drivers can change in Hung Hom.

The fact that the East Rail Line used to terminate in Tsim Sha Tsui East station, before the West Rail extension was completed, means that the train design and the platform design allow East Rail trains to go through the Tsim Sha Tsui East station and the rest of the West Rail stations.

For the same reason, if West Rail trains can terminate in Hung Hom, they should be able to run through the rest of the stations along the East Rail Line.

Karina Lam, Sha Tin

Well, why not?  Could it because East Rail trains are longer and run more frequently?  I think it could.  If the MTR ran East Rail trains through to Tuen Mun they would be half-empty.  It would also cost a lot of money because they would need to purchase a lot of extra rolling stock to extend West Rail trains to the same length as East Rail.

Luckily, the MTR have a different planA more logical plan.  They will link up West Rail with the other ugly duckling (Ma On Shan Line), and extend East Rail across to Hong Kong island.  If there are any journalists left at the SCMP and they have access to the archives they would surely find some stories about this plan, and then they might have thought twice about printing this stupid letter.

East meets West (Rail)

Today West Rail is extended, through the new Austin station and the existing East Tsim Sha Tsui station, to terminate at Hung Hom, where it finally links up with East Rail (the original KCR line from Kowloon to the border with mainland China). 

This means that East Rail trains have stopped running to East Tsim Sha Tsui station, and once again terminate at Hung Hom, as they did from 1974 to 2004 (though the destination shown on trains then was always the slightly ambiguous 'Kowloon').  

Prior to 1974, the terminus for the KCR (Kowloon Cantoon Railway) was near the Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui, and the original clock tower can still be seen close to the Cultural Centre.  

I still don't understand why the station is called East Tsim Sha Tsui (rather than the official English name for the area - Tsim Sha Tsui East).  In Chinese the area and station have the same name (尖東 - the second character being 'East'), so this is clearly part of the ongoing campaign to confuse non-Chinese people. 

There's also the puzzling romanization (which prompts visitors to call the area/station something like "Chim Shar Chewy") and the the official English pronunciation, which is similar(ish) but not the same as the Cantonese.

Eventually, both East Rail and West Rail will be extended beyond Hung Hom (East Rail will go south to Admiralty, and West Rail will join up with Ma On Shan Rail).  Until then, passengers changing trains at Hung Hom will sometimes find the next train on the adjacent platform, and sometimes not.  Also, there are shorter trains and longer intervals on West Rail, so passengers who were previously persuaded to use East TST station may well switch back to the Tsuen Wan Line.

Today there are vast numbers of MTR staff around at East TST and Hung Hom stations holding sign boards and explaining to passengers about the changes.  Presumably these are the same people who have been holding boards at Tseung Kwan O line stations for the last few weeks, to inform passengers about the new service to the inelegantly named LOHAS Park station.

Which reminds me that recently the MTR has taken to announcing that trains will "stop service at xxxx", which sounds as if there is a problem.  What they actually mean is that this is the destination.        

Out of Service

Picture the scene: it's raining and you are looking for a taxi.  There's one with the "Taxi" light on.  You get closer and notice that it's "out of service".

Maybe the driver is waiting to pick up a passenger who has made a telephone booking; or it could be that he is only interested in a fare to the other side of the harbour; or perhaps he is going off duty.

All of these different things are indicated by putting the "Out of Service" sign on top of the taxi meter.

Surely there must be a better way?  Why can't we have a system that allows taxis to indicate that they are waiting for a passenger and are not available for hire?  

I suppose it's asking too much for officialdom to acknowledge that some taxis only want fares to the other side of the harbour?  Yes, I know that there are a few "cross-harbour" taxi stands, but there aren't enough of them - and how many people take taxis from taxi stands?  

Sha Tin to Central - or maybe not


Last week the SCMP had two stories about the so-called "Sha Tin to Central link", the new rail line being built by the MTR (MTR Corp submits new rail plan and vows to minimise disruption.

When completed the 17km extension will not only give commuters in Ma On Shan and Sha Tin a direct rail route to Central and Admiralty, it will also link East Kowloon to the New Territories West via West Rail.

And look, there's a map to show us the route (see right)

Except that I'm fairly certain that the latest plan is to link up Ma On Shan Rail with West Rail by building a line from Tai Wai to Hung Hom, and to extend East Rail to Central.  They will then be renamed the East-West line and the North-South line.  So Ma On Shan will not have a direct connection to Central (though Sha Tin will).

I tried to check this on the MTR website, but I couldn't find anything very clear.  I don't think I imagined this, though.