In July I visited the Conference on Advanced Systems for Public Transportation, short CASPT’12. One of the keynote speakers was Hong K. Lo who is working in Hong Kong. In his presentation he gave some interesting facts about life and transportation in Hong Kong, that I like to share with you.

Population Density – Hong Kong has about 7 Milllion citizens and is build on several islands. The surrounding water restricts the available space for developing new neighborhoods, so that the total area of Hong Kong is about 1,104 km2 (426 sq mi, according to Wikipedia). Combining the two numbers results in an unbelievable high population density of 16’576 people/sq mi – or, with Calgary having 3’442 p./sq mi, about 5 times the population density of Calgary.

A look at Hong Kong Island.

A look at Hong Kong Island and its topography (from Wikimedia).

Effects of topography on transportation – The islands as seen above seem to be fairly rocky. That makes it a perfect area for hiking (I heard it has lots of really good trails) with nice views on the sea, but makes it difficult for construction of buildings, roads and rails. In particular, building a road or rail that connects two points in a fast and straight connection is difficult and will require to build tunnels. Building tunnels isn’t cheap, so I guess there are not soo many and you have to pay quite some fees when using one. For instance, the official list here outlines a 33$HK fee for private cars for the Tai Lam Tunnel. Wow…

So what do we get from this? – Moving around with your private car in Hong Kong will take time (windy and steep roads) and costs you lots of money. Which brings us to our second fact:

Car ownership – In Hong Kong about 56 people of 1000 have a car. In comparison, the US average is about 450 cars /1000 people – which is probably about to the Canadian figure (but should be at least the same for Calgary), and even in Santiago de Chile (a growing Southern American metropolis) we can find about 200 cars per 1000 inhabitants. Reasons for this comparably low rate of car ownership are:

  • the topography and road-network conditions mentioned above,
  • a car-buyers tax of 35%-100% of the car price, and
  • a gas price of about 8$US/Galon  (in the US about 4$/gal)

Again, a wow! … or maybe a “holy-moly”, seems to be appropriate here.

So you may already have a guess that people move around in Hong Kong with the public transit, using the bus and the metro, because it is simply cheaper and faster. It is probably better for the environment too, but I am not sure that people really care about this. However, the impressive number is: 90% of all trips are with public transit.

This number seems to indicate that public transit companies in Hong Kong should actually be financially sustainable – i.e. the companies don’t have losses without direct government subsidies . There is some truth to it, but also some fiction. The truth is, that the big transit companies (rail: MTR, bus: KMB) are not having losses overall. However, lots of the gains are actually coming from the transit companies activities in property development, i.e. apartment sales. That is developers and transit companies buy land from “someone” (e.g. the state) and do jointly a completely new development or re-development including the connection to the transit network (e.g. Metro). Tseung Kwan O New Town was given as an example for such developments in the presentation.

Some interesting conclusion by H.K. Lo on the transit & development situation in Hong Kong have been:

  • Rail transit requires accompanying transport and land use policies (e.g.: discourage car ownership, high-density development, priority treatment for rail-based public transport, inter-modal coordination, etc. Privatization is not a panacea.)
  • Even with these policies, fare revenue alone is extremely difficult to achieve financial sustainability.
  • Exploiting the synergy between rail and property development is essential. A good case of cross-subsidy between rail and property development can be established.

Most likely it is not possible for Calgary or other North-American cities to apply the same system due to the different land use options. However maybe we can learn something from it with respect to the influence of policies?

Btw. the slides of the talk can be found here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *