Thursday, January 2, 2014, 07:28
HK's ultra-efficient transport network
By Albert Lin

Here’s a teaser that will bring a groan to the brainiest of Hong Kong’s mathematicians — what result do you get if you divide 590,000 by 2,050? While the answer defies my over-taxed brain, I’m sure it’s almost infinitesimal. But it’s not a silly question by any means, because Hong Kong has an astonishing total of 590,000 cars and only 2,050 kilometers of public roads to use. The result of the above sum will tell you just how little a share of our public roads you theoretically get when you pay your annual car licensing fee.

Whew — I thought our population statistics were eye-popping — 7,182,700 people somehow squeezed into or onto 1,104 sq. km. of land (not to mention less than 25 percent of it is built up) at an average of 6,300 inhabitants per square kilometer, but isn’t our seeming “love affair” with cars way over the top?

The government sets those license fees at a punitively high level to try to dissuade the middle classes from having a dabble with a four-wheeled beast, and collects a hefty tax on every liter of fuel they will buy in future — but still they go ahead with their ego trips, gleefully making their contribution to all the congestion and, of course, our air pollution.

No wonder our roads are a madhouse during rush-hour periods, when traffic always gets clogged on the busiest roads and drivers caught up in the mess must be blessed with patience, fortitude – and a good supply of fuel.

Okay, despite all the warnings you’ve bought your shiny new mini-limo, and now you’re involved in a very expensive reality check — where do you park it? Or, more correctly, how much is it going to cost you to buy a parking place at your block of flats.

Well, in March 2012 one punter living at Repulse Bay coughed up a whopping HK$385,000 for a permanent park for his ritzy limo. Several months later another spendthrift motorist paid HK$288,000 for a parking place — also in a luxury block of flats on Hong Kong Island.

So today’s reality is that to enjoy convenient parking and have peace of mind about your vehicle’s security, it’s going to cost you six fat figures in greenback for a car park — on top of the car’s purchase price.

Next, when you drive to work or take the family for a spin in the New Territories at the weekend, where will you find an on-street parking place? You will indeed be lucky to get one, because there are just 18,035 of them spread across Hong Kong, the largest number in Kowloon City (2,497) but in very short supply in the Central Business District — a niggardly 546 in Central and Western. Or, looking across the harbor to our other main business hub of Yau Tsim Mong, a precious total of 1,890.

Should you be tooling around the New Territories, you just might get lucky and find a perch in one of the streets of Shatin (1,542), Taipo (1,528), Sai Kung (1,125) or North District (1,177).

But if you find on-street parking and believe yourself lucky, think again. Who is going to be the “runner” topping up the meter every couple of hours to keep at bay the parking warden ever ready with his book of very costly and very, very vexing tickets.

No, you’re doubtless much better off in the safety of a private car park — which, unfortunately, you’ll find charges like a wounded bull.

When you stack up the plusses and minuses of owning a car in Hong Kong as against using public transport, there can be no doubt that public transport comes out several laps ahead. Its convenience and speed has won over more than 90 percent of the population, who very sensibly use it every day, mostly to go to work or school.

We may not realize it, or just taking it for granted, but Hong Kong has one of the best organized and most efficient public transport systems in the world. The plethora of services available includes road, rail and ferries, the pacemaker of course being the ubiquitous MTR that — the rare power outages aside — daily whisks millions of commuters around with dizzying efficiency. On top of which its Light Rail Transit system connects the more remote towns in the New Territories and provides links to fast mainstream services.

Stop and think about our truly remarkable transport infrastructure — all the improvements we have made to increase the efficient services of public transport — all those highways, bridges, tunnels, bus lanes and bus terminals, facilities for red and green minibuses plus all the ferry piers dotting the coastline.

And just how good is it to get to and from our ultra-mod International Airport by the swift and punctuate Airport Express — a blessing we take for granted. Compare it with some of the inefficient and antiquated services provided at some other Asian and European destinations. In fact, when you compare our transport infrastructure with America’s, well...there’s no comparison!

Talking about fast services, people in a hurry to get to Macao can hop on a chopper from the rooftop of the Shun Tak Centre in Western and get there 40 minutes faster than by jetfoil.

The author is Op-Ed Editor of China Daily Hong Kong Edition.