Provision of Public Transport Services

5.1 Public transport in Hong Kong is dominant for passenger movements, and by international standards is fast, efficient, cheap to use and comfortable. Transport services are provided by the railway corporations and private sector, and they operate profitably. Government is responsible for the co-ordination of the different modes, and has been successful in regulating the system.

5.2 The locations and characteristics of the public transport services are based on the existing and forecast transport demands. The highly successful passenger rail system is being expanded through the efforts of RDS, together with efforts by the rail operators. Shortfalls or excesses in capacity on the bus systems are generally remedied speedily through Government's co-ordination with the bus companies.

5.3 CTS-3 finds that public transport services will continue to dominate the transport scene in Hong Kong and will account for almost 90% of all transport person trips in Hong Kong in 2016. Railway will take over franchised bus and become the most used public transport mode in Hong Kong, carrying about 40% of all person trips, or about 40% to 50% of the total public transport patronage in 2016.

Modal Hierarchy

5.4 The passenger carrying transport modes can be set out in a hierarchy depending on their relative efficiency and function. At the top of this hierarchy comes the heavy rail system, which is capable of carrying large numbers of passengers at low marginal cost, and with low adverse environmental impact. Coming next are the buses and LRT as the other main providers of trunk services, with the rest of the other public transport modes largely supplementing them. The public light buses (PLB), especially in the form of Green Minibuses (GMB) may also act as carriers for lightly trafficked services. Ferries provide essential links to the outlying islands and ancillary services in the inner harbour.

5.5 Taxis provide a choice to travellers who are prepared to pay a premium fare in return for a personal, door-to-door, service. However, in terms of road usage they are the least efficient type of public transport. Private cars impose a large burden on the community through their inefficient use of road space and their need for extensive parking facilities at both ends of their trips.

Role of Each Mode

5.6 The characteristics of the modes and their patronage in Hong Kong in 1998 are shown in Table 5.1. The largest passenger carrying mode is still the large franchised bus, now closely followed by heavy rail, and probably soon to be surpassed after the opening of West Rail, the MTR Tseung Kwan O Extension, and the Ma On Shan Railway.

Table 5.1

Hierarchy of Public Transport Modes

Mode 1   Capacity   Usage 2   Costs to Build 3   Costs to Operate   Flexibility   Use in Hierarchy  
Heavy Rail   MTR/KCR   Very High   2,923   Very High   Low   Low   Provides major trunk services in corridors with very high demand.
Light Rail   High   314   High   Low   Low   Provides trunk services in high demand corridors. May feed heavy rail or ferry.
Bus   Medium   3,912   Low   Medium   High   Provides trunk services in medium demand corridors. May feed heavy rail, light rail or ferry.
Minibus   Low   1,755   Low   High   Very High   Provides services in low demand corridors. May feed heavy rail, light rail or ferry.
Tram   Low   254   Medium   Medium   Low   Provides services for short trips where the low speed is unimportant and the low fare is a major advantage. May feed heavy rail.
Taxi   Low   1,307   Low   Very High   Very High   Provides specialised personal door-to-door services.
Ferry   Medium   172   Low   High   Low   Provides essential services for the outlying islands and supplements other modes in the inner harbour.

1.  Non-franchised buses are excluded in the Table for their varying service characteristics.
1.  Annual average daily boardings in 1998 (thousands).
1.  Costs to build are for new systems, those for existing systems should be considered as sunk.

5.7 Heavy rail, as represented by the MTR and the KCR, provides a high-capacity, off-street, less-polluting, relatively accident-free service. Their high initial construction costs are compensated by their low direct operating costs in corridors with a high travel demand. The Light Rail Transit (LRT) system in the northwest New Territories is an important component of the public transport system for Tuen Mun, Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai. It will soon be augmented in this task by the KCR West Rail and gradually switch to a feeder role. The LRT has a much lower capacity than heavy rail, but is also much less expensive to construct. The operating costs are still low by absolute standards, but are around double those of heavy rail per passenger-kilometre. The tramways on the north Hong Kong Island corridor provide a useful supplement to the MTR and bus services in that corridor, with the advantages of low fares and frequent and convenient at-grade stops.

5.8 Despite the provision of rail services, large franchised buses are still the major passenger carrier, and will inevitably retain an important role in the public transport system. The quality of service offered by these buses has improved in recent years with the increasing services provided by air-conditioned, more comfortable vehicles. Air-conditioning has become a standard feature on all new buses and air-conditioned buses with suitable ventilation for all seasons should be the norm for quality service for franchised bus companies in future. Franchised buses are capable of satisfying demands at a lower capital cost. They have the great advantage of flexibility, in that they can adjust their service patterns to meet changes in demand in a relatively short time.

5.9 The primary function of the green minibuses (GMB), which operate scheduled services on fixed routes, is to supplement the mass carriers, serving areas where patronage does not justify the provision of high capacity modes. Red minibuses (RMB), on the other hand provide a service for people who are prepared to pay a slightly higher fare in return for a more flexible and sometimes more comfortable service than buses. The RMBs operate in such a way as to make a large contribution to road congestion in some areas. Minibuses are less efficient users of road space than the large buses, but much more efficient than taxis or cars. Their fares and costs are also intermediate between large buses and taxis. It is recommended that the current policy of maintaining the current fleet size (4,350) and converting more RMB to GMB services should be continued, and that the new GMB services should mainly serve as feeders to the mass carriers, as well as serving areas physically inaccessible to buses or where demand does not warrant franchised bus services. There are many types of non-franchised bus services mainly tour, hotel, student, employee and residents' services. Residents' services are operated as a supplementary service to franchised buses primarily during peak hours and the need for such operation may be reduced as overall public transport capacity increases.

5.10 Taxis provide a personal, door-to-door public transport service at a premium fare. They essentially provide an alternative to private cars for those who do not have access to a car, or who choose not to use it for a particular journey. They are not an efficient user of road space, and are expensive to operate. Circulating empty taxis add to this inefficiency, but add to the level of service provided.

5.11 Ferries provide an essential link to the outlying islands and a useful alternative for some commuters to new towns and across the harbour. They are relatively inflexible in their service patterns and currently operate at a higher cost per passenger-kilometre than the bus and rail modes.

5.12 The hierarchy of public transport modes in Hong Kong has evolved over the years through market forces and with some Government intervention. The main feature that has been added by Government is the heavy passenger rail system, through the support for the MTRC and KCRC. The question arises as to whether this hierarchy can or should be improved or modified.

5.13 On capacity, environmental and operating cost grounds, heavy rail should be at the top of the public transport hierarchy. Heavy rail has the lowest operating costs and provides a high level of service. The system should be extended to form a comprehensive railway network by the construction of new lines in places where they can be justified. Once they are built, they should be used to the greatest extent possible by the use of other modes as feeders.

5.14 The road-based modes also have their internal hierarchy based on relative efficiency and capacity. In terms of capacity per passenger car unit (which gives a good indication of road space usage), franchised buses are the most efficient among them, followed by minibuses and taxis.

5.15 The recommendation is that the de facto public transport hierarchy that exists today should be continued, and the public transport system further developed and expanded on the basis of this hierarchy. The top category is formed by heavy rail, which should be instituted wherever sufficient demand exists to render it viable. This is followed by potential intermediate capacity systems, light rail or franchised bus, depending on the circumstances and availability. Trolley bus, as a possible future transport mode, may also fall into this category. In a third tier would come the minibuses, non-franchised buses, ferries, trams and taxis, each serving their own niche markets. In order to make this hierarchy effective there must be a high degree of inter-modal co-ordination, as described in the following section. This hierarchy also generally reflects the environmental performance of each mode.

Co-ordination of Different Transport Modes

5.16 One of the principles of Government's transport policy is "expanding and improving public transport", and, given the variety of modes, some degree of co-ordination by Government is necessary. The Government's inter-modal co-ordination policy, as stated in the 1990 White Paper on Transport Policy, is intended to:

"give priority to off-street modes and economic road users, and so to minimise wasteful competition".

It should be noted that the objective is not to eliminate all competition, but to strike a balance between effective use of public transport facilities and the freedom of choice for the public. Such a policy also provides positive environmental benefits.

5.17 The principal components of a co-ordinated public transport system are suitable public transport interchanges, an information system, so that passengers can effectively choose their routes, and a common payment system.

5.18 Public Transport Interchanges - Major public transport interchanges should include as many options and services as possible, and should normally include at least one mass carrier, such as MTR or KCR. However, bus-bus interchanges also have a useful role to play. In addition, the more modes that can be accommodated the better will be the performance of the interchange. These interchanges should include provision for buses, minibuses, taxis and possibly park and ride facilities if the location is appropriate. One objective of a better co-ordinated public transport system will be to induce people to leave their cars at home, or at a peripheral car park, and make their journey into the city centre by public transport. The convenience of access to the public transport system and the provision of information on this aspect could play a vital part. To overcome the perceived penalty associated with transfer between modes, measures to facilitate direct bus services between major housing developments and the railway stations are worth considering. A co-ordinated system to encourage the use of the railway means that the feeder leg of the journey must also be efficient and attractive.

5.19 Public transport interchanges should be convenient, comfortable and easy to use, in order to attract the maximum number of passengers. Several interchanges already exist in Hong Kong, including the Central/Hong Kong MTR stations, Admiralty Station, Sha Tin Station, Tung Chung Station, and several others. Each of these interchanges has a set of feeder services connecting to a full variety of local destinations, using transport modes with appropriate capacity. Locations for future interchanges could include stations on the West Rail, such as Kam Tin, and new rail stations on the Central and Wan Chai Reclamation. It is not essential that all connections should be by rail, and trunk bus systems would definitely be required for some. Bus-bus interchange schemes have been introduced at Shing Mun and Tai Lam Tunnels. It is recommended that in the planning of new major land-use or transport developments the opportunity should be taken to set up a network of high standard public transport interchanges. To achieve this, partnership between the Government and private developers should be encouraged, particularly in providing public transport interchanges in large scale private developments.

5.20 Non-franchised bus services also have a role to play in the overall public transport system. They supplement the franchised operations by providing services primarily during the peak hours. However, apart from being less efficient than franchised buses, they also cause congestion in areas such as Edinburgh Place due to a common morning peak destination in the central business district. This problem should be addressed and further examined.

5.21 In addition to purely internal transport services, some public transport interchanges could also benefit from provision for cross boundary bus services. The rapidly growing demand for cross boundary travel may justify more diverse interchanges in the districts of Hong Kong. As suggested by the Crosslinks Further Study, additional investigation should be undertaken to determine the need for additional cross boundary bus terminus facilities.

Public transport interchange at railway system

Public transport interchange at railway system

5.22 CTS-3 has modelled a trunk and feeder public transport system for Hong Kong and has found that it is beneficial in relieving to a certain degree the congestion in the road network parallel to the trunk railway but with some disbenefits to those passengers required to transfer. The proposed interchange locations are shown in Figure 5.1 and have been chosen so as to give a good coverage of the Territory, based around existing interchanges, planned rail connections and new development areas.

Major Public Transport Interchanges

5.23 Passenger Information System - A great contribution to the efficiency and use of a public transport system can be made by a passenger information system. This is discussed in Chapter 7.

5.24 Fare Systems - Another element of modal integration concerns the fares that passengers pay. In the current fare structure each rail company, and each service for other modes, charges a separate fare. This fare consists of two components - a "boarding charge" required to use the service at all, and a distance related amount. It would seem sensible to reduce the boarding charges for multi-modal trips, and thereby render them more attractive, and increase overall ridership. However, this would not reduce the costs of the operating companies to any extent, and so they would still have to recover the same amount of fare from the totality of the passengers to maintain financial viability. This would mean that fares for the distance related component would increase.

5.25 There would be practical and institutional difficulties in implementing the system involving sharing revenues among different transport operators. Therefore it is not practical to pursue a full integrated fare system.

5.26 However, there are many advantages for the travelling public to use a common payment system for all, or most, public transport modes. This is already under way through the use of the Octopus card, and should be encouraged with a view to expanding the existing fare collection integration schemes to cover all major public transport services. In any case this would be a necessary forerunner to any integrated fare system in future.

5.27 Park and Ride Facilities - A further issue of co-ordination is that between private and public transport. This takes the forms of Park and Ride (PnR), where the users park their cars at a rail station or public transport interchange and continue the trip by public transport, and Kiss and Ride trips for which the public transport rider is simply dropped off at the station or interchange. Both contribute towards increasing public transport ridership and reducing urban area traffic and parking demand. Provisions to accommodate these activities should be made as far as practicable at newly designed facilities. This in turn improves environmental conditions. The model tests of PnR show a limited usage of the mode, but this share may be increased if provision of the facilities is combined with an area pricing scheme for the destination area.

Park and ride facility at railway system

Park and ride facility at railway system





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