Four reasons why Hong Kong’s roads are so congested

You are having an important date tomorrow. Before going to bed, you have checked how long it takes from your home to the new workplace using your phone—30 minutes by bus. You have decided to leave the house 45 minutes earlier. It should be safe, right? Yet, you find yourself caught up in the traffic for nearly half an hour the next day, and could barely make it to the date on time. At that moment, you must be cursing the stupid congested traffic, but why is it so?

Congestion is shown in red. A nightmare for commuters in downtown Hong Kong.

Unlike other urban problems such as dirty streets, traffic congestion always manages to annoy all citizens—no matter the rich or the poor—because ultimately everyone has to get around at some point in time, if not every day. It is estimated (link in Chinese) that KMB passengers have wasted additional 96 million hours due to the worsened traffic congestion in 2014. Here are five reasons why drivers and passengers are constantly trapped in vehicles.


1. Illegal parking

A classic scene in Hong Kong: streets blocked by stopping vehicles. Photo by Exploringlife

It is an everyday scene in downtown Hong Kong—the roadside is fully parked with vehicles. Then when a police car turns into the street, the road is magically cleared. Nonetheless, shortly after the police has left, everything is back to its usual, with cars staking up along the road again. Hong Kong, not only a city with the smallest flats for people to live in, but also the narrowest streets for cars to drive through. And when vehicles start piling up by the road for various reasons—unloading goods, waiting for passengers, stopping for a meal—the traffic is just choked up, creating the traffic jam.


2. Toll gate

Not long ago, the highway leading to the airport suffered from serious traffic jam after the government had decided to add toll gate on the airport-bound side (it used to be on the city-bound side only). The incident has well demonstrated the problem of Hong Kong’s toll gate system (apart from government’s poor planning of not opening up enough lanes)—the heavy reliance on manual payment.

Toll gates at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel. Only 3 lanes accept automatic payment. Photo by Google Street View.

Currently, drivers can pay tolls either using the manual lane or automatic lane, where the former accept cash or contactless cards (only supported recently, what?!) while the later charges you by scanning the pre-installed device stuck on to your windscreen. The automatic option is doubtlessly the faster way to go, but drivers are reluctant to switch over as there is a monthly service charge administration fee. Thus, the majority of the lanes at toll gates are still using manual payment. The Cross-Harbour Tunnel connecting Causeway Bay and Hung Hom. the most used tunnel currently, has only 3 automatic lanes while the rest are manual ones. You can imagine how much time is wasted on waiting for the drivers in front you to count the coins or struggling to reach the card reader from their vehicles.


3. Repeated bus routes

Sectional fare allows fewer bus lines and fewer buses on the road. Graphic elements by Freepik.

If you have taken bus in regions such as mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore and Korea, you may notice that the bus fare is calculated with sectional fare based on distance. In other words, passengers have to tap their transportation cards while getting on and off the bus so they’re charged according to the distance they traveled. However, Hong Kong is using a different system—you pay for the full trip when you get on board regardless of how far you are going to travel. This results in the need of having various bus lines with overlapping routes (see figure) or else it would be too expensive for short distance passengers. Not having sectional fare speeds up the trips as fewer people hop on and off, but its disadvantage is apparent: when you have more bus lines, there will be more buses in the street.


4. Cars, cars, cars

Private cars are still the major road user in Hong Kong. Table from Report on Study of Road Traffic Congestion in Hong Kong

Ultimately, cars are stuck in traffic because there are too many cars in their way. Currently, private cars are the main users of most of the busiest roads in Hong Kong (see table), by looking at government statistics, we can see that the trend of the past 10 years is that the number of private cars has increased continuously so we can expect more and more cars on the road in the future. Nearby Singapore has implemented tolls for vehicle entering the downtown area, and even recently decided to halt the growth of car to tackle its traffic problems. Yet, similar plans are still being debated locally so we can only wait and watch the roads getting more and more crowded.


Honking and road raging won’t speed up the traffic. Photo by Hokachung

Hong Kong is a small place. that geographical constraint also causes the traffic jam. Until some major changes are done, we should stay patient and be considerate to each other as honking and road raging would help after all.


Writer: Elgar

Photographer: Elgar

Copy editor: Vanesse

Editor: Nicole

Online: Preya

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