After 30 years in the UK bus industry I am currently based in Hong Kong doing business with companies in Mainland China. The opportunities for travel in the UK are immense from the expanding middle class both in Hong Kong and Mainland China.
The new Hong Kong minimum wage has just increased to HK $34.50 per hour (about £3.50) – less than half of the UK national minimum wage, but the middle classes have high levels of disposable income, which is clear from the large number of very expensive European brands and expensive cars marques that have outlets in Hong Kong.
An exciting new source of income is available here and any good UK operator who isn’t already serving this market should look at it very seriously.
Recent reports in the UK have shown that congestion is the biggest threat to operating urban buses so it’s interesting to see how Hong Kong copes – a city with a population of 1.3 million and one of the most densely populated places on earth.
The two main operators are KMB and Citybus/New World First who operate franchise services on behalf of the Hong Kong government, with KMB alone operating more than 3,000 buses, 90% of which are tri-axle ADL or Wrights double-door deckers, and there are some BDY electric single deckers.
There is a fixed single fare per route which is only 34p to 60p per journey, but most people use smartcards so loading is very fast, probably the fastest loading times I have ever seen. Surprisingly, apart from some hotspots at peak times, there is far less congestion than you would find in a British city and bus average speeds are generally very good.
The Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is the easiest and quickest way to get about Hong Kong and Kowloon, costing about £1 per single journey, but most people use a smartcard called Octopus.
The HK $5,000 fine for smoking certainly stops people smoking, and it is spotlessly clean. The newest MTR line, the four-month-old South Island Line, doesn’t really look any newer than older lines because they are so clean and vandalism is unheard of.
British ‘elf and safety’ rules would never allow the HK Tramway track renewal system, where the trams actually still run even while a gang of workers dig up under the track, which is supported on bricks and hydraulic jacks but is a great example of where a bit of common sense and a can-do attitude can allow the system to still run and run safely. People who want to create a relationship with local tour companies or who want to see how others run public transport should really come here, you might learn a lot!