Hung believes that as the MTR is renewing its signal system and several new lines are under construction, the situation may improve in the coming few years. By 2022, the MTR will have renewed its signal system on the East Rail line and several other urban lines. Hopefully, this will increase operating capacity and train frequency.
As for buses, Hung suggests their efficiency would be improved by developing a bus rapid transit system to alleviate congestion. Many cities such as Brisbane in Australia and Turkey’s Istanbul have introduced such systems. “There are [currently] no routes specifically for buses,” says Hung. “At least, for the MTR it can increase train frequency.”
Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai says the government is not doing enough to improve Hong Kong’s public transport system. As a member of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Transport, he sees the issue as a complicated one.
One idea often suggested by scholars is the introduction of an electronic road pricing scheme to reduce the number of private cars on the roads. But Wu thinks this would place a burden on car drivers and it would be hard to implement the system on every major congested road.
“I agree electronic toll collection may be one of the possible ways, but it doesn’t necessarily alleviate congestion. I am personally more inclined to schemes that would offer priority of road usage to public transport like the bus rapid transit system,” he says.
Wu says the Panel on Transport will look into both electronic road pricing and a bus rapid transit system, but is not optimistic there will be progress before the current Legislative Council term ends next year.
The government does say it will consult the public next year on the possibility of implementing electronic toll collection in Central. Wu says it has also agreed to prepare a report on the possibilities of giving public transportation priority on the roads.
In the meantime, more roads are being built, including a route to connect Tuen Mun and Chek Lap Kok. The 9.1 km link is expected to be completed by 2018 and is seen as a third alternative to access the airport if accidents like the recent Kap Shui Mun Bridge happen again.
Legislator Wu says the crux of the problem is that it takes a “determined and credible government” to carry out large-scale, comprehensive infrastructure and policy reform on the public transport system. He adds that it will take time for a strong and credible administration to harness the expectations of different stakeholders. “It just isn’t what the current administration can do,” he says.
Edited by Thomas Chan