Hong Kong’s trams, affectionately known locally as "ding-ding" trams, have been rumbling along the northern side of Hong Kong Island since 1904 and provide a wonderfully inexpensive and enjoyable opportunity to experience a moving theatre of scenery and street life.
The first trams were all single-deck, followed in 1912 by open-air double-deck trams and by enclosed double-deck trams in 1925. About 1,700 tram journeys a day and 74 million tram journeys each year are made over six routes covering a total of 30 kilometers and 120 tram stops between Shau Kei Wan, Happy Valley and Kennedy Town. Fares remained unchanged for 13 years from 1998 until small increases the adult and child fares took effect on 7th June 2011, whilst a small increase in the fare for seniors was deferred until 7th June 2012. Hong Kong Tramways saw a surge in profits from around HK$2 million a year between 1996 and 2006 to about HK$30 million in 2008, mainly derived from enhanced advertising services which has seen some eye-catching graphic whole-body tram adverts. Since 2010 there has been a fall in passenger numbers and during 2014 daily patronage was about 194,000 until the opening of the MTR West Island Line between Sheung Wan and Kennedy Town in late December 2014 which by March 2015 had led to a further decline in daily patronage to about 180,000.
Tram departing from Shau Kei Wan Terminus
Eye-catching and effective whole body advertising is a common feature of today's tram fleet and an important revenue earner
Tram services in Hong Kong are regulated by provisions of the Government's Tramways Ordinance. From 1974 Hong Kong Tramways had been operated by Wharf (Holdings) Ltd but in April 2009 Hong Kong Tramways agreed a 50/50 partnership between Wharf Transport Investments Limited (a subsidiary of The Wharf (Holdings) Limited) and Veolia Transport China Limited. Veolia Transport China, a 50-50 joint venture between Veolia Transport and RAPT Development (both major public transport operators based in France), exercised an option to purchase the remaining 50% in March 2010 to become sole owner of Hong Kong Tramways. In 2011 Veolia Transport merged with Transdev which has a presence as a transport operator in 27 countries worldwide.
The line extends for 13km from Kennedy Town at the western end to Shau Kei Wan on the north east coast with a 3km single-track“loop” running through the Happy Valley district of Causeway Bay. There are seven routes (detailed below) some of which overlap and trams operate from 6am until midnight although operating hours of individual routes varies. In November 2010 a new route was introduced between Shau Kei Wan terminus to Kennedy Town terminus making it possible to travel the full length of the line without changing trams. Trams on this route operate at about 30 minute intervals from 7am to 7pm with a journey time of about 90 minutes. Otherwise travelling the full length of the line is only possible by changing trams, with Western Market being a convenient interchange.
Trams can be boarded at designated tram stops which are located at an average of 250 metre intervals either at roadside stops or at central road islands separating carriageways. Standing in trams is allowed and is commonplace both upstairs and downstairs.
Roadside tram stop, Johnston Road, Wanchai
Island tram stop, Johnston Road, Wanchai
A recent initiative has been the introduction of stop name and number signs on the roof of tram shelters. The rooftops of some shelters are designed to allow speedy evacuation from the tram upper deck in the event of an emergency.
Having remained unchanged for 13 years, fares for adult and child (3-12) journeys increased from 7th June 2011 to HK$2.3 and HK$1.2 respectively, whilst an increase in the concessionary fare for seniors (65 and over) to HK$1.1 was deferred until 7th June 2012. Fares can be paid either by OCTOPUS CARD or in coins (no change is given). Passengers board the tram at the rear entrance via barriers or turnstiles and disembarking at the tram by the driver. Fare is paid on disembarking and the Octopus Card reader and coin box are located by the exit next to the driver.
Picture shows exit doors (left), Octopus Card reader and fare box at the front of the tram next to the driver. Passengers pay fare on disembarking from the front of the tram either by Octopus Card or by dropping exact fare in coins into the fare box
Trams run at frequent intervals (1.5 to 4 minutes) from about 6am until midnight but can be subject to “bunching” where after a longer than usual interval several may arrive in convoy.
The trams are nicknamed "Ding Ding Tram", a reference to the bell used to warn traffic and pedestrians of their approach. When bells were replaced by a "beeper" in 2000 a public outcry led to the "ding-ding bells" being reintroduced.
Tram upper deck
The current fleet stands at 163 double-deck trams which is the world's largest fleet of double-deck trams still in service. Trams are numbered from 1 to 166 and 168 to 170. However, either through accident or superstition tram numbers 44, 63, 71, 85, 134, 144 and 167 are missing. Tram number 50, which was withdrawn from service in 1991 has been preserved in its 1950's condition and is on display in Hong Kong Museum of History. There are also two antique trams, "Albert" (No 28) in green livery and "Victoria" (No 128) in maroon livery, which are for private hire with catering services and have specially designed saloons. "Victoria" has upper-deck air conditioning allowing passengers a comfortable journey on hot summer days.
Antique tram number 128 "Victoria", often hired out as a popular "party tram" venue
Two maintenance trams numbered 200 and 300 also operate and carry out track maintenance mainly during the night time. Maintenance car 300 is both electric and diesel powered. There are two tram depots at Whitty Street and Sai Wan Ho and, since 1950, Hong Kong Tramways has built its own trams. Most of the trams were rebuilt during the 1980's and again from 2010 but tram number 1200 still retains the 1950's design with rattan and varnished teak seats
Upper deck of tram 120, the only tram in the fleet which retains the original 1950's design with rattan and varnished teak seats.
Lower deck tram passenger compartment
In 2000, a modernisation programme was commenced but only three refurbished aluminium-bodied “millennium trams”, trams 168, 169 and 170 were introduced before the programme was abandoned owing to poor public response and a preference for traditional design. The "millennium trams", which are not air-conditioned, proved to be uncomfortable for passengers in the summer heat and humidity.
Tram 169 was one of only three trams to be modernised under the abandoned "millennium tram" project in 2000. A further modernisation programme did not commence until 2011 after Hong Kong Tramways had been aquired by French operator Veolia Transport
THE NEW ERA
In October 2010 plans were announced for the current wood-frame trams to be replaced with new aluminium-framed bodies which would be cheaper to maintain as the wood-frame trams need rebuilding about every six years. The programme, costing about HK$75 million is part of Veolia's HK$200 million investment plan for the tram network.
Following a four-month study of passenger travelling habits and demand which showed demand for services is highest at the western end of the line between Wan Chai and Shau Kei Wan, Veolia Transport is proposing a revamp of services which would see faster and more frequent but shorter services at the western end of the line and less frequent services on other sections of line. There would be fewer long-distance services such as Kennedy Town to North Point but passengers would be able to transfer to connecting trams at "free transfer areas" without having to pay additional fare. However, this would be dependent on approval being granted for new tram turnarounds at areas such as Quarry Bay, Causeway Bay and Wan Chai to enable shorter routes.
Tram 168 was the prototype for the "new tram" and was introduced into public service in October 2010. The improvements include soft LED lighting, new seating with individual seats on the lower deck replacing bench seats, next stop information displays and announcements and a new AC traction system replacing the current DC motors. The existing entry turnstiles have been replaced with gates operated by infra-red sensors and the driver is able to monitor the rear of the tram with CCTV. The external appearance is largely unaltered except that electronic destination displays on the front, rear and sides of the trams have replaced the old handle-operated canvas destination indicators.
Tram 168, one of the former "millennium trams", was the prototype for the new Hong Kong tram and introduced into service in October 2010.
Trams are being renovated at a rate of about 10 to 12 a year. Although aluminium frames have replaced the old wooden frames the external appearance remains largely unaltered except for the electronic destination display
Following successful trials and good public response to the protype, the "New Tram" was officially launched on 28th November 2011 when renovated trams 171, 173 and 174 joined tram 168 in service. By November 2015, renovated trams 1, 10, 11, 13, 17, 19, 21, 23, 29, 32, 35, 36, 38, 41, 42, 43, 49, 52, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64, 66, 69, 70, 74, 77, 79, 93, 95, 96, 99, 101, 108, 109, 116, 118, 122, 129, 132, 133, 137, 141, 143, 146, 148, 151, 155, 157, 158, 172 and 175 had also been seen in service.
Interior lower deck of renovated tram 99
Interior upper deck of renovated tram 99
Renovated trams feature LCD display screens showing next stop information in Chinese and English
The renovated feature forward facing solid wood front seats, replacing the previous sideways facing plastic "bucket" seats
Sensor-controlled electronically operated flaps replace the old manual entry turnstiles
There are also plans to increase the number of trams and increase service frequency. A passenger information system has been installed at tram stops with all 118 tram stops being named and equipped with route maps. During December 2011 a HK$5 million real-time monitoring system was launched utilising about 600 electronic tags buried along the track which sense radio frequencies from antennae in the trams as they approach and leave each stop. The information is transmitted to a control centre enabling better management of tram frequency by, for example, delaying departure from stops to avoid bunching or bringing additional trams into service to plug gaps. From the summer of 2012, electronic display screens will be installed at some tram stops. Trams are also being fitted with an emergency braking system which will reduce braking distance from 14 metres to 10.5 metres in an emergency.
Veolia had applied to the Transport Department in August 2010 for a fare increase of HK$0.5 which, if approved, would have been the first increase in fares for 12 years and would have resulted in a revised fare of HK$2.5 per journey. The company had stated that if the increase was granted there would be no more fare increases for at least four years. However, in May 2011, the government approved a lower increase to HK$2.3 for adults and HK$1.2 for child (3-12) from 7th June 2011 with an increase in the fare for seniors (age 65 and over) being deferred until 7th June 2012. Veolia is expecting to have refurbished 80% of its tram fleet by the end of 2014. The refurbished trams were initially deployed mainly on the western part of the line where trams now face competition from the MTR West Island Line, which opened in late 2014 and which has resulted in a drop in daily passenger numbers of about 14,000. Earlier plans for a new "tourist loop" line to run from Star Ferry Pier in Central to Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai on reclaimed land are still in abeyance. A technical feasibility study was carried out in early 2009 and Veolia was understood to be considering replica trams showing different designs of trams which have operated since 1904.
In mid-2015 the company applied for a permit from the government to equip one tram with air conditioning under a pilot scheme to gauge public opinion as to whether to equip the whole fleet with air conditioning.
Tram 113 edging its way through Chun Yeung Street Market on the approach to North Point Tram Terminus
THE SIX ROUTES AND APPROXIMATE JOURNEY TIMES ARE;
Kennedy Town – Western Market (23 mins)
Kennedy Town – Happy Valley (60 mins)
Causeway Bay - Shek Tong Tsui (Whitty Street Depot) (45 mins)
Western Market – Shau Kei Wan (58 mins)
Shek Kong Tsui (Whitty Street Depot) – North Point (56 mins)
Happy Valley – Shau Kei Wan (42 mins)
Shau Kei Wan - Kennedy Town (85 minutes)
A full route map can be viewed or downloaded from here;
Eye-catching tram art
RIDING THE TRAM- SUGGESTED TOURIST SIGHTSEEING TRAM RIDE - (NORTH POINT TO WESTERN MARKET)
A tram ride is an exciting way for visitors to experience the colour and atmosphere of Hong Kong's vibrant street life and this suggested trip enables the opportunity to take an upstairs front-seat "grandstand" ride through some of Hong Kong's most interesting districts;
Take the MTR Island Line to North Point. Exit the station via Exit B2 to emerge on King’s Road. Cross King’s Road and follow it to the left for about 200 yards until reaching a junction in the tram tracks where trams emerging from the short loop to North Point Tram Terminus along Chun Yeung Street rejoin the main line. The terminus is on the left and here visitors can join an empty tram and occupy the upper deck front seats for excellent views.
North Point Tram Terminus, off King's Road
Passengers enter the tram through the turnstile at the rear and pay the fare either by Octopus Card or in coins at the front door by the driver on disembarking from the tram.
Grandstand view of Hong Kong's street life from upper deck front seats.
A renovation and modernisation programme began in 2011 has seen these sideways facing front seats replaced by forward facing solid wood seats in the "new trams" (see picture above)
Trams from North Point travel to Whitty Street (where the main tram depot is located) in the Sai Ying Pun district which is just beyond Western Market near the entrance to the Western Harbour Crossing. Commencing the journey at North Point Terminus the tram swings out into the centre of the wide and busy King’s Road and rumbles through its colourful shopping district. Other than in bad weather the glass sliding tram windows are usually open and as the tram pulls alongside trams travelling in the opposite direction at tram stops it is possible to shake hands with the occupants through the open windows. Soon the tram passes Fortress Hill MTR station on the left and on the right the huge AIA Tower soars into the sky. The line originally ran right next to the coastline and what you see on your right is all built on reclaimed land. Approaching Causeway Bay Tin Hau MTR station is on the right and just beyond on the right is Victoria Park with its basketball courts and football pitches in the foreground and green space behind. On the left the tram passes the modern 12 storey Hong Kong Central Library with its neo Greco-Roman façade then passes the Causeway Bay Tram Terminus outside the Regal Hong Kong Hotel continuing its clattering journey along Yee Wo Street into the shopping district. The huge Sogo department store is on the right and from here right along the stretch to Wan Chai the trams upper deck is immersed in a forest of neon lights which at night time form a truly spectacular sight. Beyond Wan Chai the tram passes along Queensway in the Admiralty district with its modern office blocks and the prestigious Pacific Place shopping mall on the left and harbour views to the right. Onwards into Central with the 70 storey Bank of China Tower and its strange geometrical shapes dominating the skyline on the left and then continuing round the corner into Des Voeux Road past the HSBC building and on the right Statue Square and the former LegCo (Legislative Council) building which is to become the Court of Final Appeal in 2015 after renovation. The tram travels right through the heart of bustling Central along Queen's Road with its shops and offices.
Tram at Des Voeux Road Central
The journey continues along the full length of Des Voeux Road through Sheung Wan and reaches Western Market Tram Terminus, about 50 minutes journey time from North Point.
Trams at Western Market Terminus
The distinctive maroon painted Western Market is just ahead. It’s best to leave the tram at the terminus here although the tram carries on a little further alongside the flyovers and underpasses around the entrance to the Western Harbour Crossing to the depot there is nothing of too much interest to see beyond the dried seafood shops of Des Voeux Road West. Passengers wishing to continue the journey to Kennedy Town change trams here at the Western Market Terminus.