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Tuesday, August 25, 2015, 08:41

Tram drivers, experts oppose plan

By Luis Liu in Hong Kong
Tram drivers, experts oppose plan
A Hong Kong Tramways driver plies his route along Des Voeux Road Central on Monday. A consulting company has suggested canc eling the tram route from Central to Admiralty to reduce traffic congestion in the area. (Parker Zheng / China Daily)

The Hong Kong Tramway Workers Union launched a signature campaign on Monday against a proposal to the Town Planning Board (TPB) to remove Hong Kong’s 110-year-old trams from Central district, while transport experts said there was no justification for cutting Hong Kong’s tram services.

If the proposal is approved, 1,400 tram trips per day will be affected, according to the union. That puts over 300 frontline drivers and many maintenance workers’ jobs at stake.

The union’s chairman Kong Kam-man questioned the logic behind the proposal, as trams were not the biggest source of traffic congestion. The increasing number of private cars and illegally parked vehicles was more urgently in need of controlling, Kong said.

The union will file a letter of opposition to the TPB next Monday.

A leading transport academic, Hung Wing-tat, supported this view. The associate professor of civil and structural engineering at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University said the trams were not “occupying the road”, but shouldering a proportion of public transport users on a daily basis.

Hung cited results of previous research that show trams only take up less than 6 percent of the roads they are routed on, while buses occupy 10 to 12 percent and private cars take up 70 percent.

Meanwhile, the tram is still one of the most used short-distance forms of public transport. According to the Transport Department, 194,000 passengers take trams each day. If the service is taken away from Central district, 150,000 people would be affected, according to the union’s assessment.

“If the tram service is canceled, the government will have a big headache (in public transport),” Hung said.

Hung also questioned the logic of the proposal, as trams enjoyed an exclusive lane in Central district which made them the “fastest vehicles” in that area — and the most efficient form of transport.

According to Hong Kong Tramways statistics, a tram can go as fast as 45 kilometers per hour.

Hung urged all related parties to halt the discussions until the Central-Wan Chai Bypass, which is under-construction, is completed (as planned) in 2017. This will ease traffic pressure there.

Chief Research Officer at think tank Civic Exchange Simon Ng felt the trams were actually victims of Central’s crowded traffic, as too many trucks load and unload along the road, and too many buses run through it.

Legislator Wong Kwok-hing supported the signature campaign, stressing that the tram was not only a means of public transport but a Hong Kong icon. Cutting the line would hurt local transportation as well as Hong Kong’s tourism industry, he said.

He also said the environmental friendliness of the tram could facilitate Hong Kong’s efforts to be a greener city.

The town planning proposal, made by retired government town planner Sit Kwok-keung, suggested removing trams from Central to Admiralty, the city’s busiest district, and demolishing tracks and stops to free up more space for other vehicles.

Lo Shun-hin contributed to the story.
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