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Hong Kong | Getting around

Getting around Hong Kong by public transport is a cinch.

The local underground system — the MTR — is fast, reliable and cheap. Although it doesn’t reach everywhere its coverage is expanding all the time.

For those parts of Hong Kong that the MTR does not reach, buses and minibuses are convenient alternatives.

Trams, a light rail system and a comprehensive ferry network complete Hong Kong’s public transport system.

A single card — known as Octopus — allows you to quickly and easily make payments on all modes of public transport.

If you don’t want to use public transport then private taxis are relatively inexpensive (although their drivers rarely speak good English). Uber also operates in Hong Kong although, unlike in other countries, isn’t that much cheaper than conventional taxis.

MTR

Hong Kong’s underground network — usually referred to as the MTR (short for ‘Mass Transit Railway’) — is the most convenient way of reaching many places, particularly in Kowloon, the north part of Hong Kong Island and a small part of the south of Hong Kong Island. The network also extends to the eastern edge of Lantau and many key destinations in the New Territories. New stations and connections are being added all the time. The next to open will be a link between Tai Wai, near Sha Tin, and Central on Hong Kong Island, due for completion in 2019.

The MTR is rarely affected by delays or line closures. Trains run every day, from early morning (around 5.30am) until late at night (12.30 or 1am). The exact times depend on the station that you are catching the MTR from.

Trains can get very busy, especially at peak times, but they run frequently. The busiest station by far is Admiralty and it’s best to avoid coming here at peak times if you can.

Fares for the MTR are based on the number of stops as well as the area that you are travelling through. Journeys on Hong Kong Island tend to be more expensive than elsewhere. You will also end up paying more if you cross the stretch of water that runs between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon or the New Territories. Thus a three-stop journey in the New Territories might cost just 5 HKD, whilst a similar length of journey between the New Territories and Hong Kong Island could cost more than 10 HKD.

If you need to take the MTR and a bus during the same journey, you will usually pay the full fare on both.

Children under the age of three do not have to pay when travelling on the MTR, providing they are shorter than 95 centimetres.

You should have little difficulty navigating the MTR system. Besides the names of stations being announced — in English, Cantonese and Mandarin — the next stop is also displayed on one of many light boards visible in each carriage. There are two exceptions to this. One is the West Rail Line, which has a digital computer display. The other is the East Rail Line, which has a more basic screen that only shows the next stop you will arrive at.

Changing from one MTR line to another, within the same station, is usually straight-forward: the lines are often across from one-another. Look at the light board on the MTR to see where you should change. Flashing lights along a particular route indicate that you can change for this line at the next station without too much difficulty.

There is mobile phone reception throughout the MTR network, including whilst the train is moving. Many MTR stations also have free temporary wi-fi access, available in 10-minute slots (just enough time to download any important email messages). A few — such as Central and Taikoo — even have computers where you can access the internet for free.

There are maps in every MTR station, explaining which exit to use according to where you want to go. Note that inside the trains the map shown isn’t the full MTR map, so it might be useful to carry a paper one (provided for free by the customer service) or download a free one on your phone.

As well as maps of the MTR, customer service can also provide maps of the local area, free of charge.

Most people use an Octopus card for travelling on the MTR — simply swipe once when you get in and again when you leave. You can also purchase single journey tickets from the machines that you’ll find in every station.

Buses

Hong Kong is well-served by an extensive network of public buses, which reach those places that the MTR does not.

There are two main types of bus in the city: the conventional bus network and minibuses.

There are four main 'conventional bus' companies: Kowloon Motor Bus Company, the newly-merged Citybus & New World First Bus Company, Long Win Bus Corporation Limited and New Lantao Bus Corporation Limited.

You can pay the bus fare by cash — although no change is given — or Octopus card. The amount charged will be the same whatever you choose. To see how much the fare is, look at the screen next to the driver. You will be charged the same amount, irrespective of where you get off. The fare will vary according to where you get on.

Working out where to get off is easy: the name of the next stop is displayed, in both Cantonese and English, on a screen at the front of the bus. Some of the more modern buses also have screens displaying the next few upcoming stops.

Minibuses look like big vans and are generally light yellow. They often serve routes that conventional buses do not reach.

The colour of the roof - either red or green - indicates the type of minibus.

The red-roofed ones do not have regular routes or scheduled departure times. They are used mainly by locals that live in the area. Passengers pay for their journey in cash when they are ready to get off; you can’t pay with Octopus card. Drivers are generally happy to stop anywhere that they are allowed to. They tend to be pricier than other forms of bus transport. The amount that you have to pay for a particular route will be displayed on a piece of card on the windscreen at the front of the bus.

The green-roofed minibuses, on the other hand, have regular routes, schedules and standard fixed fares and you can pay with Octopus card. Although these minibuses have a fixed schedule, as soon as they are full they will depart — and will not stop for passengers on the way if they cannot fit any more in.

Minibuses often run more frequently during particularly busy days.

It can be tricky to know where to get off when taking minibuses. There is no screen telling you where you are and no announcement from the driver. In fact, the overwhelming majority of minibus drivers don’t speak English.

Moreover, minibuses don’t call at every stop. The bus driver may very well ask — in Cantonese — if it is okay to skip a particular stop, and if there are no objections that is exactly what he will do. Ask your fellow passengers if you need help getting off at the correct point.

Minibuses have seating space for no more than 16 passengers and once they are full they are not allowed to carry any more. People often ask whether they are allowed to stand instead, but drivers will usually refuse this; they face a big fine if caught.

Minibuses also have only a fairly limited amount of luggage space available. Just behind the driver, you can usually stow a pushchair or a couple of suitcases, but that is about it.

Light rail

In the north-western part of the New Territories, within Tuen Mun and Yuen Long districts, the MTR merges with the Light Rail network.

As with the MTR, users must touch their Octopus card in and out on the Light Rail — easy to forget since there are no barriers to pass through. If you don’t do this, a deduction of the maximum fare will be made.

Trams

Hong Kong’s tramway is confined to the north of Hong Kong Island, stretching out between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan.

The price of taking the tram is the same (2.30 HKD) regardless of the distance travelled. A child or senior citizen ticket is half-price. You pay — with either cash or Octopus card — when you get off.

Always board a tram from the back and exit from the front. A one-way barrier prevents you leaving from the rear. Pushchairs must be folded.

Whilst trams are very cheap, they are also fairly slow. It is far quicker to take the MTR across the northern part of Hong Kong Island (although the MTR does not presently extend to Happy Valley).

Taxis

To catch a taxi, you can either hail one directly in the street or line up at one of the many taxi ranks that are to be found all over the city. You can also call taxis directly (there are different operator numbers depending on location - the numbers are in our guidebook).

Taxis normally arrive fairly quickly — although leave a little extra time during peak hours, in the middle of the night and when it is raining.

There is no extra charge for calling a taxi rather than hailing one or catching one from the taxi rank.

If you catch a taxi from a taxi rank, the driver is legally obliged to take you wherever you want to go (providing that you choose the taxi of correct colour — see box on p100). Despite this, taxis may very well refuse your custom, either because you are going in a direction that is not convenient for them or you are not travelling far enough to make it worth their while. A common way for them to do this is to pretend that they cannot understand you. This can be very frustrating, but persevere and eventually you will find a taxi driver that will take you.

Don’t think that taking a taxi is always the fastest option. In areas such as Central or Lantau, you can wait a very long time before being able to get one, particularly at peak times — and then the traffic can be horrendous.

All taxis are metered, relatively cheap and air-conditioned. Current taxi fares can be found on the transport department’s website

. Drivers are required by law to use the meter, which they generally adhere to. The fare is based on both the number of kilometres travelled and the time that the journey takes.

The amount charged varies according to the area you are travelling through. Hong Kong Island has a different set of prices than the New Territories, for example.

In addition to the standard fare, you will also have to pay an extra 6 HKD for luggage that is carried in the boot (excluding wheelchairs and crutches or other aids for the disabled). This doesn’t apply to luggage that you carry with you in the car. Pets carried will also elicit an extra 6 HKD charge.

You can only pay the fare with cash; taxis do not currently accept Octopus.



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