I’ve been travelling on Hong Kong’s trams almost daily and I am a big fan of the double-decker trams, with their ‘ding ding’ sound. They run every few minutes (from 6am to midnight), are cheap (2.30 HKD per adult), fresh air comes in through the open windows (they don’t have air conditioning, but that’s fine), you can hear, see and smell what happens around you in the streets, and convenient for me: the tram stops right in front of my office in Wan Chai.
The Hong Kong’s tramways have been operating for 108 years in 2012. The first trams were all single-deck, followed in 1912 by open-air double-deck trams and by enclosed double-deck trams in 1925. There are various different types of cars in service (more about that later) and it’s the world’s largest tram system of more than 160 double-deck cars.
About 233,000 tram journeys a day and 82 million tram journeys each year are made over seven routes (map here) covering a total of 30 kilometers and 120 tram stops between Shau Kei Wan, Happy Valley and Kennedy Town:
- Kennedy Town – Western Market (23 mins)
- Kennedy Town – Happy Valley (60 mins)
- Causeway Bay – Shek Tong Tsui (Whitty Street Depot) (45 mins)
- Western Market – Shau Kei Wan (58 mins)
- Shek Kong Tsui (Whitty Street Depot) – North Point (56 mins)
- Happy Valley – Shau Kei Wan (42 mins)
- Shau Kei Wan – Kennedy Town (85 minutes)
Travelling on a tram is easy: Standing in trams is allowed and is commonplace both upstairs and downstairs. You board the tram at the rear entrance via barriers or turnstiles and disembark at the tram by the driver. Fare is paid on disembarking and the Octopus Card reader and coin box are located by the exit next to the driver.
The current fleet stands at 163 double-deck trams, which are numbered from 1 to 166 and 168 to 170. However, either through accident or superstition tram numbers 44, 63, 71, 85, 134, 144 and 167 are missing. Tram number 50, which was withdrawn from service in 1991 has been preserved in its 1950’s condition and is on display in Hong Kong Museum of History.
There are also two antique trams, green number 28 (called Albert) and red number (128) called Victoria, which are for private hire with catering services and have specially designed saloons.
There are two tram depots at Whitty Street and Sai Wan Ho and, since 1950, Hong Kong Tramways has built its own trams.
Only two trams still retain the original 1950’s design, tram numbers 70 and 120, with rattan and varnished teak seats.
A modernisation programme was commenced in 2000, but only three refurbished aluminium-bodied trams 168, 169 and 170 were introduced before the programme was abandoned owing to poor public response and a preference for traditional design.
Over the last years engineers developed a new design that’s based on the old one, but just made smaller changes. Tram 168 (factsheet here) is such a tram. The improvements include better lightning, new seating with individual seats, next stop information displays and easier entry turnstiles. The external appearance is largely unaltered except that electronic destination displays on the front, rear and sides of the trams have replaced the old handle-operated canvas destination indicators.