More adventures with transit

dave's picture

I can remember times back home when my seasoned traveler friends would gripe about the substandard transit systems in Alberta. "Nothing connects well; you always have to wait at least 20mins for a bus..." I always thought that they might have been overreacting a bit. After all, you can still get from one end of the city to the other in under 2 hours.

Well today we arrived in Hong Kong, and I have now experienced transit the way it was meant to be: Clean, efficient, lots of space, on time, and frequent. And you get these pre-paid RFID cards that you just hover over the payment machine as you walk by.

We needed to get from the airport (which is located on a huge man-made island) to the New Territories (read suburbs) where we're staying with Debbi's friend Ellen. Total distance is about 50km. And it only took about an hour. Hong Kong has 11 metro lines. Eleven! Calgary has two. We took three different trains. But it was super straightforward, even though we can't read Chinese. The whole experience is designed to be real usable: You get off one train, walk 10 steps across the platform and step on a train from the next line which has just arrived.

There's dynamic maps all over the place that update your current position, show the next stop, what side of the train the door opens, and what lines connect. Wow. And there's lots of room, even at 4 in the afternoon (cause trains come every 5 mins); A far cry from Mumbai.

The trains are about 100M long, and are basically all one car. I bet if you rode late at night when there's not that many people around, and brought your skateboard, you could do some tests of Newton's laws of thermodynamics. I think that if you got on at the front of the train, got on your skateboard and gave a little push right when the train started moving, you could ride all the way to the end of the train; basically staying in one spot while the train moves forward. Unfortunately I don't know how to skateboard, and I'm not gutsy enough to mess with the authorities.

Back to our trip. After the subway we got on a minibus. These little 16 seaters come ever 5mins. And they have seat-belts. Seat-belts, on a bus?!?! Crazy. And there's a numeric display above the driver telling the current speed of the vehicle. There's so many buses that there's so little traffic, so you get to your destination real quick.

Needless to say my inital impression of Hong Kong is pretty good.