Those who think they can avoid delays on the MTR by taking buses may also be disappointed. Franchised bus services account for around 30.9 per cent of daily public transport usage. But some passengers are turning away from bus travel because of heavy traffic congestion in recent years.
“When I was small I thought the transport in Hong Kong was pretty good,” says Chris Lau Chun-hin, a 26-year-old newspaper reporter. “But somehow I think it is getting worse.” Lau lives in Tai Po and has to go to Kwun Tong or Hong Kong Island to report on court hearings every morning.
He originally took the bus as the bus terminal is only a two-minute walk from his home. But the traffic jams were unbearable. “It takes 50 minutes to go from Tai Po to Tate’s Cairn Tunnel, and 20 to 25 minutes more to the courts,” says Lau. The same route takes less than an hour on the MTR.
As the delay caused by congestion cannot be predicted, Lau now chooses to walk 15 minutes to Tai Wo MTR station from where it takes 40 minutes to get to Kwun Tong or Admiralty. Lau says the MTR malfunctions more than he remembers and is much more crowded than buses. “But I’d still take it because it is at least more predictable and punctual most of the time.”
Transport Department statistics show cars in urban areas travelled three fewer kilometres per hour in 2013 compared to 2003. This corresponds with a 40 per cent increase in the number of registered private cars over the same period.
Mr Yuen, a bus driver for The Kowloon Motor Bus Company, agrees that congestion is serious. He has been driving on route 74X from Tai Po to Kwun Tong for about six years. “It takes about five to 10 minutes more now. The congestion was not that bad before, and there are a lot more cars these years,” he says.
What this shows is that Hong Kong’s public transport system needs to change, says Hung Wing-tat, associate professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. There have been discussions on how to improve the efficiency of the MTR and road traffic, but there has been little progress.
“For many Hongkongers, getting to the destination in the shortest time is most important,” says Hung. “For buses, passengers are dissatisfied with the long travel time caused by congestion…while for the MTR, people complain about not being able to get on the train because of too many passengers as well as suspensions and delays.”