Transport and Driving in Hong Kong


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Hong Kong is a very compact city with an excellent system of public transportation, so driving is more of a vanity than a necessity. Moreover, Hong Kong is densely populated, so parking is very expensive and, though not nearly as ever present as in Bangkok, the traffic jams are still rather frustrating.
 
It’s only recommended that expats buy a car in Hong Kong if there are kids to shuttle from one place to another, or if they have large leisure-based or work-based equipment that frequently needs to be moved. Single, childless expatriates who enjoy the odd drink or two are definitely better off taking public transportation in Hong Kong.
 
Even expats who live off-island do not need to invest in a private vehicle. Kowloon is almost as compact as Hong Kong Island, and certainly very densely populated as well, making its terrific public transport network more convenient than a car. Even those who live in houses in Fairview Park or Palm Springs have regular shuttle buses taking them to all sorts of areas.
 

Public transport in Hong Kong

 
The superbly efficient system of public transport in Hong Kong makes it easy to navigate. New arrivals in the city will be able to take advantage of a variety of options including Mass Transit Railways (MTR), ferries, trams, buses and taxis.
 

Mass Transit Railways (MTR) in Hong Kong

The most likely mode of transit for almost anyone in Hong Kong would be the MTR, the city's subway. It is extremely efficient compared to the tube in London, as well as extremely clean compared to the subway in New York. Not to mention, mobile phone reception is available, and commuters have the privilege of avoiding the crush of the street level congestion above.
 
The MTR runs all over Hong Kong, from the island all the way across to the airport, and up to and over the border with China. That said, there are certain parts of the region that the MTR doesn’t reach, in which case expats will need to utilise alternative methods of public transport.
 
All that's needed to use the MTR is an Octopus card, a charge card which can be used for the MTR, buses, minibuses, grocery shopping, and even making donations and opening the doors to certain buildings. The card is relatively cheap, and expats can even download an app that calculates travelling times.
 
Fares are calculated from point to point, and are roughly based on distance. While unlimited ride cards for tourists do exist, these are actually quite pricey, and aren’t really economical for people who are merely journeying to and from work.
 
When riding the MTR, expats should bear in mind that Hong Kongers are perpetually in a hurry, so they should make sure they shuffle along quickly to avoid getting trampled on or pushed over, especially at busy interchanging stations such as Admiralty or Mong Kok. Also, male expats may want keep their hands to themselves to avoid any embarrassment, since the carts can literally be sardine packed during rush hours. 
 
Tip: Those needing to take the airport express should buy their tickets in advance at any tour operating shop, which give a whopping 30 percent off the costs of tickets purchased from stations.
 

Ferries in Hong Kong

Hong Kong ferry by Barney MossThe ferry is an essential mode of transit for expats living in Discovery Bay, Lamma Island, Park Island, or any of the other outlying islands favoured by foreigners. It is also the only connection from these islands to Hong Kong Island, except for the emergency ambulance helicopter service.

For the most part, the schedule is simple, and easy to memorise. Expats can use their Octopus Card to pay for the ferry, as well as other annual package deals. Prices increased in 2013, much to the consternation of some residents, but are still relatively affordable
 
Ferries are, of course, subject to Hong Kong’s occasionally extreme weather conditions, and service can grind to a halt in the event of a typhoon or a black rainstorm warning. In these cases, employees may be asked to leave work early, or find a friend to stay with until the storm has died down.
 
The Hong Kong weather observatory can be consulted in advance to make sure that ferries are running. 
 

Trams in Hong Kong

The tram is only available on Hong Kong Island and travels from the eastern part of the island to the west side as well as up the Peak. Expats should note that this is a very slow means of transport, so, unless they live in Sai Ying Pun or on May Road which the MTR doesn’t reach, it is unlikely that they will travel on the tram on a daily basis. The Octopus Card also works for the tram, which happens to be the cheapest means of traveling around the island, other than walking.
 

Buses in Hong Kong

There are also buses in Hong Kong which travel on the island or over to Kowloon, with most of the vehicles equipped with speakers and digital signboards announcing what the next stop is in Cantonese, English and Mandarin. They are a popular mode of transit, especially for people who don’t live near the MTR lines, in areas such as Hong Kong Island South or Sai Kung.
 
Buses are usually less packed, but are unfortunately subject to the same slow-moving traffic as private vehicles. People tend to choose this mode of transit so that they can get a seat and have some shut-eye before arriving at work.
 
The Octopus card can be used on buses; costs are slightly less than those associated with the MTR. There are also apps available that show the duration and stops for every bus route. Prices are in single or double digits, with the most expensive being the ride from Hong Kong Island all the way over to the airport, just to the northeast of Lantau Island.
 

Minibuses in Hong Kong

There is a huge variety of minibuses in Hong Kong, ranging from the green-top vehicles that travel on fixed routes to red-top, sole proprietor vehicles.
 
This mode of transit is essential for those living in places such as Sai Kung or Cyberport, where the MTR doesn’t reach, and is generally preferred over buses by those in a hurry. The minibuses only stop when people request to disembark and don’t stop at every station. Furthermore, they only hold between 14 and 16 people, as opposed to the larger full-sized buses.
 
This mode of transit is not without its challenges. Firsly, if expats do need to take the minibuses, they’ll need to learn Cantonese. Disgruntled drivers are known to get cranky when foreigners don’t speak perfect Cantonese; which is a necessity since passengers have to shout their stop to the driver, to signal where they would like to get off. Furthermore, these vehicles are known to travel well over 60 miles an hour (100 km/h) at night, so if going out after midnight, buckle up and pray.
 
The green-top vehicles will accept the Octopus Card as payment, but red-top minibuses will take cash only. The pricing calculations are rather mysterious, but the general idea is that the further the distance travelled, the more it costs. The price rarely exceeds double digits.
 

Taxis in Hong Kong

Taxis in Hong Kong by Laure WayaffeTaking a taxi in Hong Kong is incredibly cheap in comparison to places like Tokyo or even some cities in Western Europe. Expats will soon realise that each driver's English proficiency and mapping skills can vary tremendously. Hong Kong taxis accept cash only, and usually round up their fares to the next Hong Kong dollar. 
 
Green cabs are only for travelling within the New Territories, and blue cabs are only for outlying islands. Both charge cheaper fares than the normal red cabs, which shouldn't be flagged down if one needs to travel out of Kowloon or Hong Kong.

Taxis seem to be readily available, until it's raining or rush hour, at which point it seems impossible to flag one down, which means that commuters will need to be a bit more aggressive in catching one.
 

Driving a car in Hong Kong

 
Buying a car in Hong Kong is not necessary. The region is small, and the costs of buying and parking a car are high. That said, it is still a common mode of transit for expats, especially those that choose accommodation farther away from the city centre. Those who do choose to own an automobile will, however, have quite a few rules of the road to make themselves aware of before pulling out into traffic. 
 

Driving tips for expats

  • Cars drive on the left hand side of the road in Hong Kong 
  • Hong Kong is very hilly, so be prepared for some steep terrain
  • Learn to parallel park. Car parks are small, and on-street parking is mostly in parallel spaces.
  • If in a minor car accident, consider settling the dispute directly. Insurance premiums are pricy, and people tend to solve situations themselves to avoid claiming. Still, it is important to report to the police to avoid future litigations. 
  • Traffic at the Cross Harbour Tunnel is always appalling. Getting an Autotoll detector, a charge card for the tunnel, speeds up the commute.
  • Hong Kongers are perpetually in a hurry, so expats shouldn't get upset if they don’t get let through. Instead, waving to show one's gratitude increases the chances of being allowed to pass.
  • Hong Kongers drive close to the car in front of them, so brake slowly rather than stopping quickly to avoid accidents
  • Be alert at all times – pedestrians seem to jump out from every direction
 

Pedestrians in Hong Kong

 
Hong Kong is relatively safe for pedestrians in comparison to China, and people generally stick to the cross-walks and the signals that accompany them. Cycling on the road is also acceptable, but it can be dangerous to cycle on the highways in the evenings. Those who don't fancy walking can use the outdoor escalators in places like Mid-Levels.

Our Hong Kong Expert

GillianChu's picture
Gillian Chu
Canada
Hong Kong
Gillian Chu is a Hong Kong raised Canadian who enjoys lingering around fashion parties and exploring the secret cultural...
GillianChu

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