Rachel Wright lived and worked in Hong Kong for many years, and has also enjoyed living and working in Beijing. She has written on education and social issues for the South China Morning Post.
The Mass Transit Railway System
The Mass Transit Railway System (MTR) is the fastest way to get around Hong Kong and trains are clean, well-run and reliable. The service operates between 6:00 am and 1:00 am and has 49 stations along its 5 lines:
- the Island Line, running along the north of Hong Kong Island;
- the Tsuen Wan Line, which runs north/north-west from Central to Kowloon;
- the Kwun Tong and Tseung Kwan O Lines, which run to east Kowloon and connect with North Point on east Hong Kong Island; and
- the Tung Chung Line, which runs out to Lantau.
A map of the MTR’s routes is shown in the colour plate section.
The MTR is used on a daily basis by over two million passengers and is crowded at peak hours 7:30–9:00 am and 4:00–8:00 pm. During the rush hour, trains run every two to three minutes.
Adult fares range from $4 to $26, depending on the distance travelled. Concessionary fares for senior citizens, children and Hong Kong students range from $3 to $13. The Octopus card, an electronic stored-value smart card, is the most convenient way to pay for travel on the MTR, and can also be used on ferries, Kowloon–Canton Railway (KCR) trains and buses, and in parking meters, ParknShop supermarkets and some fast food restaurants. You can buy one at any MTR Customer Service Centre: the price includes a $50 deposit, redeemable when you return the card.
To use your Octopus card on trains, simply swipe the card against an electronic reader at the station barriers and again when you emerge at your destination station. The correct amount will be automatically deducted from your card. Make sure you don’t store two cards in the same wallet, or money may be deducted from both at the same time. Cards can be charged up in MTR stations and 7-Eleven stores by adding cash or transferring money from your EPS (Electronic Point of Sale) card. For more information, call the Octopus Hotline on 2266 2266.
Single tickets, a tourist MTR 1-Day Pass costing $50 and a 3-Day Hong Kong Transport Pass that includes one or two Airport Express train single journeys (see below) are all available to buy. For other information on fares and routes, visit www.mtr.com.hk/jplanner/planner_index.php or call the 24-hour Passenger Hotline on 2881 8888.
The Airport Express service runs every 12 minutes all day between Hong Kong station (linked by walkways to Central MTR station) and the airport. The journey takes about 23 minutes, and trains run from 5:50 am to 12:48 am. Passengers can check their luggage in at Kowloon or Hong Kong stations. Some airlines, including Dragon Air and Cathay Pacific, permit check-in the day before departure. Individual airlines have different schedules for check-in, so call them beforehand to check the earliest and latest times for check-in.
Airport Express passengers using Octopus cards can enjoy free MTR connections to or from Airport Express stations if their cards have usable value and their travel on the MTR and Airport Express is within one hour of each other. Passengers who take the Airport Express can board a free Airport Express Shuttle Bus service between Hong Kong and Kowloon stations and major hotels and transport interchanges (buses run every 12 or 24 minutes).
Parking is also available at Airport Express stations. For more information, visit www.mtr.com.hk.
Facilities for disabled passengers
Special facilities for disabled passengers include tactile guide paths, audible devices, a Braille station layout map, Braille plates, a flashing system map and bidirectional wide gates. Wheelchair aid with staff assistance is provided at some stations, wide public lifts at most others.
Services in stations
Besides food shops, convenience shops, heel bars and passport photo booths, MTR stations also provide ATM services, post boxes and public payphones that accept coins and phone cards. Some stations, including Central, Kowloon Tong and Wanchai, are equipped with iCentres – computer terminals with free Internet access.
Passengers using the Airport Express can use wireless broadband services to access the Internet and download offline news and e-mail to Palm and Pocket PCs. Access points are located at Hong Kong, Kowloon, Tsing Yi and Airport stations.
The Kowloon–Canton Railway
The Kowloon–Canton Railway Company (KCRC) operates three lines:
- East Rail, which runs from East Tsim Sha Tsui to Lowu;
- West Rail, which runs from Nam Cheong to Tuen Mun, West Kowloon and the New Territories; and
- Light Rail, which serves the far west New Territories.
Several other lines and extensions are under construction. The East Rail line is the most heavily used as it runs past Shatin, University (Chinese University), Taipo, Shatin Racetrack and all the way to Lowu at the mainland China Shenzhen border. The service gets crowded during rush hours (7:30–9:00 am and 5:00–7:00 pm) and is busy all day at the weekends. It’s worth paying double to travel in First Class to ensure you have a seat, especially if you join the train at Kowloon Tong and are going all the way to Lowu. Swipe your Octopus card against the First Class electronic reader on the platform before you get on the train. Paying for your fare with an Octopus card works out slightly cheaper than buying standard price single tickets.
A map of the KCR’s routes is shown in the colour plate section.
Public buses are currently franchised to a few different companies and their subsidiaries. Journeys cost anywhere from $2.50 on Hong Kong Island to $45 for airport bus services. Senior citizen rates for those over 60, or sometimes 65, apply on some routes. Children under 12 years old are entitled to a half-fare. Have the exact change ready, or pay by swiping your Octopus card when you get on.
Some buses running to Stanley (6, 6A, 6X, 61 and 260) have two-way sectional fares, which means that you need to swipe your Octopus card when you get on and again when you get off, so that the fare deducted matches precisely the length of the journey travelled.
Bus-to-bus interchange schemes give Octopus users concessions when they interchange from one specific bus route to another. Many buses are now fitted with Roadshow video advertising and some programming, although the volume is usually turned down to avoid irritating passengers.
Citybus is one of the major franchised companies, running services on Hong Kong Island, cross-harbour buses and airport buses. A full list of routes served by Citybus and its subsidiary, New World First Bus, is on the website www.citybus.com.hk, as is a point-to-point search for bus routes and details of days out. Citybus’s Enquiries Hotline is 2873 0818. The Kowloon Motor Bus company runs services in Kowloon and the New Territories; a route search facility, including a PDA version, is available at www.kmb.hk. Other companies operate Lantau routes.
Minibuses (Public Light Buses)
There are thousands of 16-seater cream minibuses that ply the routes not served by the public bus companies. The green-roofed buses operate on fixed routes at fixed fares; the red-roofed buses are free to operate anywhere, except where special prohibitions apply, with unregulated routes or fares. Operating times vary. Minibus drivers have a reputation for being fast and furious drivers, but nothing beats being able to flag down a minibus for convenience.
Green minibus stations serving Mid-Levels – Old Peak, Bowen, Macdonnel and Conduit Roads, and Queen Mary’s Hospital – are located at Star Ferry car park and round the corner from City Hall. From Causeway Bay, buses run to Happy Valley (No. 30 from Pak Sha Road), Stanley (No. 40 from Tang Lung Street) and Kennedy Town (from Jardine’s Bazaar, opposite Sogo).
You should pay with the exact change or your Octopus card when you board. If there is no Octopus card reader or slot box when you get on, then pay the driver directly when you get off. Note that some routes have sectional fares and concessions for children under 1.2 metres tall.
You have to shout when you want to get off the bus. Commonly, one of the following phrases is used:
- ‘jyun waan yauh lohk’ (meaning ‘round the corner’);
- ‘kyuu dai yauh lohk’ (‘at the steps’);
- ‘dang wai yauh lohk’ (‘at the traffic lights’);
- just the name of the street; or
- ‘yauh lohk’ if you want to get off right away.
Bus timetables and routes are given in the pamphlet enclosed in the Hong Kong Guidebook (see above).
There are more than ten different ferry operators in Hong Kong. The Star Ferry Company runs services between Central and TST (Star Ferry Pier, Central), and Wanchai and TST (Wanchai Ferry Pier). Services run from 6:30 am to 11:30 pm (Central) and 7:30 am to 11:00 pm (Wanchai). They are every five to eight minutes at peak hour and every ten to twenty minutes at off-peak times, and cost $1.70–2.20 per trip.
Major daily services
- Central Pier No. 3 – Discovery Bay, Lantau. Journey time: 25–30 minutes. Intervals vary between 10–30 minutes. Service runs through the night. Adult fare: $27.
- Central Pier No. 6 – Mui Wo (Silvermine May), Lantau. Journey time: 31–48 minutes. Intervals vary between 15–40 minutes. Service runs through the night. Adult fare: $10.50–21 (Monday–Saturday).
- Central Pier No. 6 – Peng Chau. Journey time: 25–38 minutes. Service runs every 45 minutes through most of the day and night. Adult fare: $10.50–21 (Monday–Saturday).
- Central Pier No. 5 – Cheng Chau. Journey time: 32–48 minutes. Service runs at half-hourly intervals through most of the day and night. Adult fare: $10.50–21 (Monday–Saturday). The slow ferry ‘Deluxe Class’ allows you to sit out on deck.
- Central Pier No. 4 – Yung Shue Wan, Lamma. Journey time: 20–30 minutes. Service runs between 6:30 am and 12:30 am. Time intervals vary between 15–60 minutes. Adult: $10–15 (Monday–Saturday).
- Sok Ku Wan, Lamma. Journey time: 35–45 minutes. Infrequent service.
- Aberdeen-Pak Kok Tsuen-Yung Shue Wan (Lamma). Journey time: 25 minutes. Intervals vary.
The location of the Central piers is shown on the Central City Map (see Figure 4.2). Other ferry services include Central–Ma Wan, Central–Hung Hom, Wanchai–Hung Hom, North Point–Hung Hom and Central–TST East.
For more information on ferry services, timetables and fares, visit www.td.gov.hk/transport_in_hong_kong/public_transport/ferries/index.htm.
The Peak Tram runs from the terminus station on Garden Road (see Figure 4.2) up to the Peak between 7:00 am and midnight. There are four stops along the route and the journey takes about 15 minutes. Adult fares are $20 single and $30 return.
Hong Kong Tramways runs trams along the north of Hong Kong Island from Kennedy Town in the west to Shau Kei Wan in the east and also to Happy Valley from 6:00 am to midnight. The flat fare is $2 for adults and $1 for children and senior citizens.
There are over 18,000 taxis in Hong Kong and they provide an excellent, ubiquitous and comparatively cheap service throughout the day and night.
Red taxis serve Hong Kong and Kowloon, green taxis serve the New Territories and blue taxis serve Lantau. Urban taxis charge slightly more than their rural equivalents. A flagfall urban taxi fare of $15 applies for the first two kilometres; thereafter the fare is charged at $1.40 per 0.2 kilometre.
Some taxis on Hong Kong Island only travel to Kowloon. These taxis have their own taxi ranks and frequently display a sign covering the taxi lamp that says ‘Not For Hire’ – in fact they are, but only for passengers going over to Kowloon.
Taxis are only allowed to pick up and drop off at designated zones and will not stop for you if you’re standing on a double yellow line. They are not allowed to refuse to take a fare, although some try to if the distance is not sufficient to be attractive. If they do, you can report them on the Complaints Hotline (tel. 2889 9999). Drivers in Hong Kong are not permitted to use handheld mobile phones but frequently do use ear-piece mobile phones while driving.
Front- and back-seat passengers are required by law to wear seat belts and an extra charge of $5 is applied to taxis booked by phone, if animals are taken or if luggage is put in the boot. Passengers are also liable to pay the return tolls for cross-harbour tunnels, but Shing Mun, Lion Rock, Aberdeen, Tseung Kwan O, Tai Lam and Tate’s Cairn tunnel fares should be paid by the driver. Avoid handing the driver a $500 note – he probably won’t have change. Taxi drivers don’t expect tips, although it’s usual to round up to the nearest dollar when paying them.
Most drivers can speak some English, although the level of English varies considerably. Drivers may connect you via walkie-talkie to their headquarters so you can repeat the place name to them, or just ask you to direct them. It pays to learn the name of your own road in Cantonese. Major tourist landmarks such as MTR stations, Times Square, Central, Peak Tram, Ocean Park and so on won’t be a problem, but keep a bilingual map handy if you want to avoid trouble.
The elevated covered walkways in the city make walking around more pleasant and less crowded. Major elevated walkways include those in Central and Wanchai – see Figures 4.1 to 4.6 for details.
Because running a car is comparatively expensive in Hong Kong – estimates vary between $8,000 and $15,000 per month – and because the public transport network is efficient and good value, many expats opt not to have a car. Second-hand cars can, however, be acquired inexpensively.
According to David Neil of Expat Motors, the main direct costs associated with running a car in Hong Kong are the insurance, vehicle licence and petrol:
- Insurance is dependent on not only the type of car, but also the age of the person buying it. Sample costs can be obtained from Andy Lau of Argos Insurance Brokers (tel. 2763 7516).
- The annual vehicle licence fee varies according to engine capacity: $3,929 for less than 1.5 litre engines, ranging up to $11,329 for 4.5 litres and above.
- Petrol is not cheap, at approximately $12 a litre.
As in the UK, cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. Driving is reasonably safe in Hong Kong, although there are frequent complaints about the recklessness of some drivers. Automotive magazine has commented:
The most common mistakes by Hong Kong drivers are related to signalling. The main one is turning with no signal. Next up is signalling without turning. Third is signalling half-way around the turn.
Importing a car for personal use
If you are importing a car for personal use, you will need to prove that your car complies with vehicle exhaust and noise requirements. Some exemptions apply to petrol-driven private cars if vehicles have been used for less than six months, or used by the owner for six months or more in the country of normal residence prior to the application.
There is no customs tax to pay, but you will need to pay a ‘first registration tax’ administered by the Transport Department on the basis of the car’s retail price; or, if that is unavailable, tax will be calculated on the purchase price plus insurance and freight fees, brokerage fees and so on. Rates of tax are posted at www.info.gov.hk/customs/eng/major/import/motor_e.html. Depreciation allowances can be given if the imported vehicle has previously been registered in the name of the importer in a foreign country. Left-hand drive vehicles are not usually permitted to be imported.
You will also need to file an ‘Import Return’ (form CED 336) and a ‘Declaration on Particulars of Motor Vehicles Imported for Personal Use’ (form CED 336A) with the Customs and Excise Department. Forms can be completed electronically at www.info.gov.hk/customs/eng/forms/forms_e.html, or call 2231 4390. More information is available from the Customs and Excise Department (11/F, North Point Government Offices, 333 Java Road, North Point; tel. 2231 4391).
A vehicle inspection should then be carried out at a specified Vehicle Examination Centre (tel. 2333 3112). After the taxable value of the vehicle has been ascertained and the vehicle has passed its inspection, you can apply for registration and licensing of your vehicle at one of the Licensing Offices of the Transport Department (e.g. 3/F, United Centre, 95 Queensway, Admiralty; tel. 2804 2637).
Licence renewal and change of registration details
A vehicle licence may be renewed four months before its expiry by submitting Form TD 23112 (for one year) or TD 2314 (for four months). The owner is required to inform the Transport Department within 72 hours of any changes with regard to registration particulars (TD150). All forms can be downloaded from www.td.gov.hk/public_services/licences_and_permits/vehicle_and_ driving_licences/index.htm.
Transfer of ownership
The fee for transfer of vehicle ownership is $1,000 for vehicles except motorcycles and tricycles, where the fee is $250. The new owner is legally required to deliver a Transfer Notice (TD25) to the Transport Department and give the duplicate to the former owner. Third party insurance is necessary when registering or transferring ownership.
Applying for a driving licence
You can drive here with a foreign licence as long as you have visitor status – that is, you are expecting to reside in Hong Kong for less than 12 months.
Once you are issued with a Hong Kong ID Card, you are required to apply for a Hong Kong licence. No test is necessary if you:
- hold a valid overseas driving licence issued by an approved country;
- have a licence that expired less than three years ago;
- have resided in the place of issue for at least six months during which time the licence was issued;
- held the licence for five years or more prior to application and hold a passport of the country where the licence was issued.
TD63A application forms are available at the Transport Department Licensing Office or can be downloaded from the website address above, or from any post office. A driver’s licence costs $900 and is valid for ten years.
Learning to drive in Hong Kong
If you are 18 years of age or above, you can apply for a learner’s driving permit at the Transport Department Licensing Office. You will need a Hong Kong ID card and you will have to pay an application fee of $548. The learner’s permit is valid for 12 months. A test on Hong Kong Island can also be arranged via the same office: fees are $510 for the written test and $800 for the driving test. Details of government and private driving instruction centres are provided on the Transport Department’s website.
The cost of parking varies depending where the car is parked, and even within which building. You can purchase monthly tickets for most car parks, Star Ferry car park being particularly popular. These are sold on a first-come, first-served basis and cost $4,100 a month without a reserved spot or $23 per hour. A list of multi-storey car parks and motorcycle spaces, with details of monthly pass and hourly rates, is provided at www.td.gov.hk/transport_in_hong_kong/parking/carparks/index.htm. All street parking meters are operated by Octopus card.
Toll roads and tunnels
There are ten toll roads and tunnels in Hong Kong, including the cross-harbour tunnels (Eastern Harbour Tunnel, Western Harbour Tunnel and Cross-Harbour Tunnel). If you want to avoid hold-ups while paying the toll, you can join the Autotoll prepaid system (see www.autotoll.com.hk).
The Traffic Department posts camera images and videos of busy areas for drivers to view online at http://traffic.td.gov.hk/selection_e.htm. If you are involved in or witness an accident, call emergency services on 999. Take down the vehicle registration number and driver’s details, including their ID card number.
Hong Kong Automobile Association
The Hong Kong Automobile Association (tel. 2739 5273) offers 24-hour emergency vehicle rescue, car care services, insurance and motorsports. Membership is $200 plus an annual subscription of $660. For more details, see their website www.hkaa.com.hk.
Car maintenance services are offered by dealers’ garages or street garages all over Hong Kong, including Happy Valley, Tin Hau, Wanchai, Sai Kung, Kowloon City and Mid-Levels. Garages offer a range of services, including repair, car wash, shine, interior steaming, vehicle safety inspection and oil changing.