19 Sept 2016
Moving with the Times
Hong Kong has one of the world’s most efficient public transportation systems. Alongside its enviable metro network, the city’s fleet of original commuter vehicles – the beloved Hong Kong Tramway system – is still in service and well patronised today.
It was 1904 when the Hongkong Tramway Electric Company Ltd, now Hong Kong Tramways (HKT), rolled out the first of its wooden-framed, single-deck tramcars from its depot on Hong Kong Island to meet the needs of a growing population and rising Hong Kong economy. The first fleet of 26 trams was built in the United Kingdom and assembled in Hong Kong. By the 1920s, Hong Kong craftsmen had taken over the construction, and continue to build them to this day.
By 1912, passenger patronage was so strong that double-deck trams were introduced offering an iconic open-top and garden seat design. Six routes, 120 stations and 30 kilometres of tramway track later, the trams were the most convenient and affordable way to get around town. An adult fare today still costs only HK$2.30, regardless of the distance travelled.
Speaking at HKT’s 110th anniversary celebration in 2014, Hong Kong Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam remarked that to generations who were born and raised in Hong Kong, “the tram is indeed part of our lives – we all grew up with ding-ding.” Commuters and sightseeing tourists alike appreciate the more relaxed pace of a tram ride, she added, noting that with no roadside emissions, the system is also the greenest way to travel.
| Unique Hong Kong Experience|
|Hong Kong Tramway’s new TramOramic Tour takes visitors aboard a 1920s-style heritage tram on which they can experience the old and new facets of the city. The service, said Emmanuel Vivant, Managing Director of Hong Kong Tramways, “offers passengers a 100 per cent Hong Kong experience on a unique ‘ding ding’ from days gone by.”|
As the journey passes through the city streets, authentic Hong Kong stories and sites of interest are narrated to passengers via personal headphones available in eight languages. The tram features an on-board video comparing past and present Hong Kong, and a heritage corner with old pictures and genuine tram souvenirs.
The package also includes a two-day pass for unlimited access to the Tramways’ regular service to deepen Hong Kong’s exploration, and seven thematic journey maps for self-guided tours to interesting sites along the tram lines.
“Our ambition is to compare how Hong Kong used to be, and how Hong Kong is now,” said Mr Sambin. “The evolution of the city is amazing, that’s what we’re able to show visitors.”
Oldest and Busiest
Antoine Sambin, HKT’s Commercial and Corporate Affairs Manager, believes Hong Kong has the world’s oldest and largest double-decker tram fleet.
“It’s also the busiest, carrying 200,000 passengers every day,” he said, pointing out that while remaining true to its heritage, the system is also moving with the times.
“To meet the expectation of 21st century passengers, and to have the greenest trams possible, HKT decided to replace the wooden structure with aluminum, which is lighter (resulting in lower electrical consumption), maintenance is easier to do, and the duration of the tram life is extended too,” said Mr Sambin, who added that direct current engines on the trams have been replaced with more-efficient alternating current traction engines. The new regenerative braking system generates electricity during braking, which feeds back into the overhead line power supply system.
To increase passenger comfort, the tramcar’s interior was renovated with new seating and lighting, and LED information panels added.
HKT started building the lighter aluminium tramcars in 2010. Designed and constructed in-house, they use original machinery adapted with modern technology. “We still have 100 wooden structure tram cars in use, and have no issues with them, but 50 of the new signature tram cars are in service now, and we replace one every month,” said Mr Sambin.
In keeping with today’s digital age, HKT also provides real-time passenger information, via its NexTram app. By scanning a QR code posted at each tram station, passengers can also learn the arrival time and destination of the next three trams approaching their location.
Lean Business Model
Fares are kept low by running a lean business operation. The company’s main source of income is fare revenue, but the company also generates income from other sources. Since the 1930s, advertising has been placed on tram bodies and shelters, and in 1987 the Tram Charter Service allows patrons to book a party tram for private functions. A new sightseeing service called the TramOramic Tour was launched in January 2016.
The tramway doesn’t seek to compete with the city’s MTR train system, but rather caters to a different market, Mr Sambin said. For short- to medium-length journeys, he says, it’s more convenient to hop on a tram at street level rather than descend to a subway, and the affordable fare is attractive. With a tram station available every 250 metres and trams arriving every 90 seconds during peak hours – it is very competitive, and sometimes faster, to take the tram.
Besides, the Hong Kong tram is a pure Hong Kong brand, added Mr Sambin. “The tram cars are 100 per cent made in our depot – which might well be the last factory left on Hong Kong Island. Our workers are carpenters, electricians, mechanical engineers, who are able to produce every part of the tramcars, and maintain them.”
And judging from public response, Hong Kong’s trams are here to stay. A proposal last year to scrap the tramway line provoked a strong outcry from the community.
“We’ve never thought of replacing them,” Mr Sambin said. “We are proud of our heritage and look to go beyond the expectations of our passengers. That means protecting this iconic tram, while improving our service to the population with a convenient transport mode. What happened last year proves that people really appreciate both.”
Hong Kong Tramways (HKT)