Public Transport in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is bestowed with an extensive and relatively inexpensive public transport system that is made up of regular buses, minibuses, trams, ferries, taxis and express trains. The network covers almost all corners of the territory so much so that is quite easy to live in Hong Kong without having a personal vehicle.
The Octopus Card
On your arrival in Hong Kong, one of the first things you should do is acquire an Octopus card. The rainbow-hued Octopus card is a stored value card. This card is used to pay fares on the many modes of public transport in the SAR, and it is also widely accepted as a form of payment at several stores and restaurants throughout Hong Kong. Additionally, several apartment and office complexes also use Octopus cards as entry access cards for their residents while schools also accept Octopus cards as payment modes for issue of library books and so forth.
The most commonly used Octopus card is the standard on-loan Octopus Card. You can buy your Octopus card at all MTR, Ferry and Light Rail customer service centers in Hong Kong. You need to pay cash to buy your Octopus card and card-refilling facilities are available at stations, supermarkets, convenience stores and even apartment and office complexes. Your Octopus card doesn’t ever expire. Several kinds of Octopus Cards are in use in Hong Kong including personalized cards, commemorative cards and cards linked to bank accounts and credit cards for easy top-ups. There are even special Octopus cards catering to tourists, which offer dining and shopping offers for visitors to Hong Kong.
Express rail links
Hong Kong features in the list of global cities, which has a direct, rapid rail link between its international airport and city center. This express rail service is called the Airport Express and the train arrives and departs from the main concourse of the Hong Kong International Airport. Thereby providing a facile and quick (24 minutes) commute to and from the city center. The air-conditioned train service makes two main stops en route to Hong Kong Station in Central from the airport, at Tsing Yi port and Kowloon station. The train offers Wi-Fi service and has comfortable seats and adequate space for luggage.
Additionally, check-in facilities are available at Hong Kong and Kowloon stations so if you are going to the airport you can check-in your luggage in advance (from 24 hours up to 90 minutes before your flight) at these stations and head out to the airport unencumbered. The service runs from 6am until midnight at ten-minute intervals. Trains after midnight run at 12-minute intervals until 1 am. The service is wheelchair friendly and in fact, extends beyond the airport to the Asia World Expo convention and conference center. Free shuttle bus services from Hong Kong and Kowloon stations to prominent hotels and free porter services are other conveniences of this rapid rail service. Another express rail link is under construction currently which will connect Hong Kong to Shenzhen and Guangzhou on the mainland and reduce travel times greatly.
The subway or metro system in Hong Kong is called the MTR. The MTR is the crown jewel of the territory’s public transport system. This network of trains operates both under and over ground as it connects major areas of the SAR with its nine different lines. Hong Kong’s MTR service runs all the way up to the China border and provides easy access to the immensely popular shopping destination, Shenzhen from where you can travel on into China. The MTR reach is being expanded at present, and new connections will be soon available linking the Southern and Western areas of Hong Kong Island with the rest of the network.
Unlike other mass transit networks around the world, Hong Kong’s MTR system is easily accessible by wheelchair-bound passengers as most MTR stations offer step-free access. Commuters use Octopus cards or then buy single journey tickets to access the MTR network. Children under the age of three can travel free on the system, while kids agedthree to 11 pay half the adult fare. The MTR trains are extremely crowded during peak travel times of 7.30 am to 9.30 am and 4pm to 7pm. Crowd control personnel at present at the stations to facilitate smooth transit. The MTR services operate from 6 am until mid-night though trains run for longer on special holiday services. Aside from local train services, the MTR also operates inter-city rail services between Hong Kong and major cities in Mainland China such as Beijing, Shanghai and the Guangdong province.
Hong Kong’s public bus network features both double and single decker vehicles and spans almost all the territory. Four main bus companies operate in Hong Kong. The Citybus and the New World First Bus and the Kowloon Motor Bus ply on Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula. While the New Lantao Bus and Long Win Buscompaniesoperate on Lantau Island and also provide bus connections to the Hong Kong International airport.
The buses in Hong Kong are air-conditioned and offer a comfortable commute during the SAR’s sultry summers. Some buses also offer free Wi-Fi services. All buses in Hong Kong sport electronic frontal displays announcing their final destinations in both English and Chinese. The passenger cabins of the buses are adorned with similar electronic moving signboards as well as periodic multi-lingual announcements that list approaching stops.
Bus routes in Hong Kong have staggered fares contingent on the distances traveled. Passengers use Octopus cards and exact cash (coins) to pay fares on Hong Kong’s buses. Children under the age of four ride free while those between the ages for four and 12 pay half the adult fare. There are a number of apps available for both IOS and Android smartphones that provide information about Hong Kong’s bus services. These apps can be downloaded from the Google Play and iTunes stores respectively. And of the amazing features of the Hong Kong buses is that the tall double-deckers are very maneuverable and can easily navigate the territory’s hilly terrain though not all of them have lower access ramps for wheelchair users. Bus services run round the clock in Hong Kong, additionally there are special morning express bus services as well as exclusive night bus services.
Another unique feature of Hong Kong’s public transport network is its system of minibus services. Minibuses are small 16-seater coaches that ply on designated routes. Two kinds of minibuses serve Hong Kong’s commuters, green and red minibuses. While green minibuses operate on fixed routes and have a schedule and fixed fares, the red minibuses not have fixed routes or timetables or fares. Red minibuses have permissions to operate on all roads except those, which have restricted access due to government rules. Passengers use Octopus cards or then tender exact change in coins to access minibus services. Both adults and children pay the same fare for rides aboard minibuses.
Travel on a minibus is quite easy once you are familiar with the route and you know how to request for a stop in Cantonese. However in expat-heavy neighborhoods minibus drivers do tend to understand a smattering of English and thus, do make stops when requested in English. Seats on some minibuses are outfitted with bells, which greatly facilitate the process of requesting a stop. Minibus drivers are known to be tear-away drivers and passengers need to wear seat belts if they are provided on the minibus.
Taxi services are plentiful in Hong Kong. Unlike in many other global cities, taxis, in fact, form a rather affordable component of Hong Kong’s public transport network. Three types of taxis ply on Hong Kong’s roads. These taxi services differ in terms of the color of the vehicles and the areas they serve. All taxi services offer connections to Hong Kong International Airport and Hong Kong’s star attraction Disneyland. The red taxis serve all of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula but they are not permitted to ply on certain roads like Tung Chung road or the southern half of Lantau Island. Blue taxis operate on Lantau Island but are not permitted to ply in vehicle-free Discovery Bay while Hong Kong’s green taxis serve the SAR’s New Territories region.
All taxis in Hong Kong are metered and have a start-off base charge. This base charge is valid for the first two kilometers of the journey after which the charge is increased after every 200 metres or then after every minute of wait time. The Transport Department of Hong Kong alters the terms of the taxi fares periodically. In addition to the metered fare, passengers need to pay extra for transporting luggage and animals and also for tolls. Tips are not mandatory, and drivers willingly supply receipts if needed.
As many taxi drivers are not fluent in English, it helps if you know the Cantonese version of your destination or then you have it written on a card that you can show to the driver. Various companies operate taxi services in Hong Kong, and you can call a cab or then use an app like Easy Taxi to request for a cab. The popular private car service Uber has recently launched in Hong Kong. The service has also tied up with Hong Kong’s taxi drivers to offer Uber Taxi service. A water taxi service operates on the south side of Hong Kong Island in Aberdeen and on the island of Cheng Chau.
The territory of Hong Kong encompasses more than 200 outlying islands. While many of these islands are uninhabited several islands like Discovery Bay, Lantau, Lamma, Cheng Chau and others host large residential communities. Regular commuter ferry services provide connections between these islands and the rest of Hong Kong. These ferries are air-conditioned and also offer free Wi-Fi for passengers. Most ferry services operate round the clock but passengers have to be aware of ferry timings in order to avoid missing their ferryride home especially after mid-night when the services are less frequent,
The iconic Star Ferry provides commuter services between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula. The Wan Chai Ferry similarly runs between the Wan Chai pier and TsimShaTsui. Various kinds of water vessels(jetfoils, hydrofoils, jet cats) provide transport services between Hong Kong and Macau and various other destinations in China like Zhuhai(a popular locale for furniture shopping) in China. Ferry services also serve Hong Kong International airport and provide easy access to destinations in China.
Historic electric trams that run along the busy streets of Hong Kong Island offer the cheapest mode of transport in the SAR. Popularly called ‘Ding Dings,’ Hong Kong’s trams are not air-conditioned or disabled friendly but remain a popular mode of transport. The tram journey from Shau Kei Wan to Kennedy Town almost traverses the length of the island and is a popular tourist attraction. You tender your fare for your tram ride when you disembark, and you can either use your Octopus card or then exact change in coins.