10 May 2010

Pink Elephants On Our Streets 馬路上的大象

On any given day at any given time, from Kennedy Town to Chai Wan, Tuen Mun to Shatin, close your eyes and all you will hear are the roaring diesel engines of our double-decker buses. Hong Kong joins Britain, Russia, Singapore and Sri Lanka in the exclusive club of insane countries that still let these urban dinosaurs roam their streets. With its narrow roads, hilly topography and gridlocked traffic, Hong Kong is about the least qualified place on Earth to have two-story vehicles running around town. No matter which way you look at it, our double-deckers are out of place, out of scale and, at a time when carbon footprint is on everyone’s lips, grossly out of style.



Public buses are the biggest polluters on our streets and they hit us on multiple fronts: air pollution, thermal pollution and noise pollution...

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Read the rest of this article in HONG KONG State of Mind, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong, on Amazon and at Blacksmith Books.



25 comments:

  1. am i the first reader?
    in fact, i love the convenience of bus, but hate the roadshow very much..

    RW

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  2. Cannot agree more. Buses are so under-utilized: even during rush hour there are still seats esp. on main roads. And often an entire lane (sometimes two) is blocked up completely by buses. Clearly a need to rationalize routes.

    Moreover, even China uses less-polluting LPG buses... time to catch up.

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  3. I am sorry to say that but the buses are most needed.

    When I need to commute from Tai Po to Tai Koo, if I take train and MTR, it takes me over 1:30 minutes. This is what I need to do. 1) Take the transit bus to Tai Po Market station, 2) Catch the train to Kowloon Tong, 3) Change from Kowloon Tong to Yau Tong to cross the habour, 4) From Yau Tong to North Point 5) Change AGAIN to Tai Ko. OK. The price may be a lot cheaper. The trip is only $16.90.

    If I take the bus from home, then I will change bus at Tate Cain Tunnel for another bus to Tai Koo directly. The price is $24.80

    If I am taking another special bus at Peak hour, the price is around $22.00. The time for commuting? 45 minutes door-to-door.

    If I can, I will take the train. But the god-forbidden factor is TIME. If I can save something like 1 hour and more per day of MY time on NOT commuting, I would. Hence, I will opt for buses.

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  4. Thanks, Phil. How about we keep the bus route but replace the double decker with a normal single-story bus? Will that do?

    Jason

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  5. But I do agree they are gigantic heaters that cause air pollution. But until there are a much better way to balance the need of commuters and number of buses on the road, I support choices to have buses and MTR and all.

    However, the other issue that you did not mention is the high rise buildings along the habour front. I am so worry that after they pull down the New World Hotel in TST and whether the developer is going to built another high rise building to block the air circulation. If that is the case, even we don't have any bus on the road, the air quality in Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei area will be even worse.

    So to fix the air pollution problem in HK is more than just pointing the fingers at the buses.

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  6. your article makes a lot of sense, however evolution takes time, and with the current population in HK.... I would say in terms of green the solution will need to be instant...as they cannot wait. perhaps a new mode of erogonomical and environmental friendly fuel... as honestly i cannot see the bus off the road as the best thing as a lot of the popultion do depend on it for commuting

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  7. Jason. I see your point on your article and understand what you are saying.

    I think single-storey buses will work on the Island side that serve Pok Fu Lam and the mid-level etc. But for long travelling from N.T. to the Island side, Double Decker is more rational in the sense that one Double Decker can carry twice the number of passengers than a single-storey bus. Hence, one less single-storey bus, less pollution from that single-storey bus and less road occupancy.

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  8. Thanks, Anonymous. I like radical changes and I think we should pull the bandaid in one swift move.

    I know many people depend on buses, but it doesn't mean that we can't retire the double-deckers. We can keep the bus routes, but let's get rid of those unwieldy clunkers that measure over 4 meters in height!

    Jason

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  9. Definitely, both food for thought and action.

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  10. You've made very valid points that the streets are not equipped to handle massive clunkers like those running around tight roads ready to barge into another pedestrian at any second. Air quality is horrible in Hong Kong and I can imagine how much more worst exhaust fumes from these clunkers can create, not to mention, consistent noise and crowd pollution. Residents of HK need to make businesses solely accountable for more environmentally friendly vehicles, to start with, and smaller sized units that can safely maneuver through the crowded HK streets. Shouldn't have to wait for statistics to show immeasurable lung cancer rates or several more pedestrians lying on the floor before more action is considered.

    GL

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  11. I totally agreed, the bus is the main source of pullated air but the govt are so afraid to ask the GIANT company to cut route, so they rather ask taxi ans private car to stop their car while they are waiting for passangers. It's too Hot in summer time, what a stupid suggestions to ask people to follow!!!!

    JC

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  12. Just read your piece on the pink elephants; just some thoughts cantering down my mind as I traverse your piece:

    These elephants still roam the streets in Sydney! They are not exclusive to HK, UK, Russia, Singapore and Sri Lanka, or are they really? I have done no research on this : p

    I loathe the pollution they are causing, albeit they are not the sole cause of such in HK. I have to say that until and unless an alternative mode of environmentally friendly and economic form of commode is made available, lots of people in HK (especially the less well-to-do ones) are hugely dependent on the buses. Which is sad. I have had friends who told me MTR is already an extravagant form of commuting for them, they always opt for buses. Honestly is there another form of "MASS TRANSIT" form of transport? And I bet you remember the public outcry every time it is suggested that the fares for riding these elephants got raised.

    BTW, may I add, I think their numbers are on the rise in HK too! Never recalled seeing Gloucester Road and Queensway so clogged with them as a kid! They have utterly walled up the area around the High Court and the harbour-front areas during rush hours. Your description of the "lives" of these elephants are so vivid and apt , but surely they trumped down the local grid quicker than real elephants do (admittedly I have never seen elephants in a real run for their lives).

    And tell me about it, I am beginning to think watching the ads on the sides of the buses are even more "entertaining" and informative than turning on the TV or reading the paper. At least I knew that if I haven't watched or known about a movie depicted on the side of a but, I'm relatively "out".

    Can't tell you how much I enjoy your pieces (especially closing to the official hours of a day's work - you know the night is still long for lawyers). Thanks for keeping me posted of all the goodies you penned. Keep your fingers walking!

    Christine

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  13. Just a piece of update: the George Orwell-1984-type telescreens on the bus are now all muted on most double-deckers. Thanks to the press I guess.



    Olivia

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  14. Hi Olivia,

    I noticed that the screens have been muted on some buses, although I still hear the screens on others. Whenever I catch myself staring at them I immediately look away and slap myself in the face!

    Jason

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  15. Christine,

    I believe the double-deckers in Sydney, like those in New York City, are sight-seeing buses meant for tourists and there are only very small number of them. It's not like Hong Kong and London, for example, where these two-story vehicles are used as a main means of transport.

    Jason

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  16. But Jason, it's surely far better to have 1 bus on the road instead of 40 or 70 cars which would be needed to carry the same number of people...

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  17. Thanks for raising the point, Pete.

    I am not in any way proposing that bus passengers should all be driving their own cars or taking taxis. If we do manage to get rid of the double-deckers (and I hope we do), riders will be motivated to take the MTR, the KCR and minibuses. Hong Kongers are adaptive and we will figure out a way to get to work or some new form of transport will pop up to meet the need -- and hence the reference in my conclusion about necessity giving rise to innovation.

    Besides, a majority of the double-deckers loop around the city at 10, 15 percent capacity. So I am not sure whether the claim that a bus can replace 40 to 70 cars is empirically accurate.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  18. Jason,

    Such environmental friendly bus might be coming in the future (however far reach that future will be is another question)!!!

    Have a look at this link.

    Cheers.

    Phil

    http://www.patent-cn.com/2010/05/08/38266.shtml#more-38266

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  19. I remember reading a news about bus companies in fact having reduced their number of buses as required. I cannot give you the source thou

    P

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  20. Although buses do cause a lot of pollution, if we reduce the number of buses going round I'm sure a lot of the people would just revert to driving their own car instead, which would make the traffic worse and maybe pollution too.

    What they could do is to reduce the frequency of the buses especially during non-peak hours, then hopefully we would see less of the "empty" buses going round while still maintaining the convenience of the bus routes.

    For me I can take either the MTR or the bus to and from work, initially I took the MTR but during rush hours they are just way too packed. For the buses it is much more comfortable as most likely I would be able to get a seat.

    Also what occurred to me is a lot of people get on at Hung Hom to cross the harbour to HK Island. Why don't they have routes that start from Hung Hom instead of having so many buses that start from all over Kowloon but they are mostly empty until they get to Hung Hom.

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  21. I completely agree with you, GL (scroll up). Health problems are already cropping up: the number of asthma attacks, chronic respiratory problems and cancer cases continues to climb in Hong Kong. My sister-in-case runs an old-people homes and she told me that mortality rate is significantly higher than that in the 80s and 90s.

    Jason

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  22. Good article mate. So in your opinion, is the solution trains, eco-cars or something else?

    ED

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  23. Thanks, ED. I do not profess to be a transport expert and don't have any particular solutions in mind -- and hence my open-ended conclusion. But at least I know that smoke-billowing double-deckers are NOT one of them. Hong Kong people are resilient. If we get rid of those clunkers we will find another way.

    Jason

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  24. UM..Maybe the decide fault in the past, hah? Who suggest to have train? (but not really suitable in crowded area) Who suggest to have double decker? (but can't fulfil another hopes)
    No perfect imagine / planner and no perfect in viewer. :)

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  25. Hi Jason,

    You have a point about the polluting double decker bus, but what about the driving attitute of a minibus driver. I would avoid, e.g., travelling on a red minibus as much as possible on some routes.

    And I have just read your FB entry about your near-death experience on Pokfulam Road. Was the minivan a public minibus? (I had access to it coz Pete Spurrier is on my friends' list).

    Your background (career) is an interesting one, too. I also did engineering and was an engineer. I was so disenchanted with being one and I ended up studying part-time law and switching to the legal profession.

    I had a little column in Pete's Town Crier some years ago. However, since joining the govt I seemed to have lost all my creating for writing (law is about complying with rules, and on top of that the govt has a lot of rules, too, so that may be the reasons why my creativity was stifled!)

    It's great seeing the writing on your blog. Keep up with it and take care.

    Bernard

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