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Hong Kong’s miracle public transport system reminds me why I love this place

The western grouches who back the hostile narrative about the city get the headlines, but the simple truth is that the place remains an enchanting wonder – and when you consider its public transport system, it’s a genuine modern urban miracle, writes Richard Cullen

VARIOUS PEOPLE HAVE expressed widely differing views on the radical, needed political-legal reforms introduced into Hong Kong, by Beijing, following the immensely violent and destructive multi-month insurrection, which began in mid-2019.  The repeated grumpy belittling of Hong Kong by Stephen Roach and then Jonathan Sumption (see video below) provide recent striking negative examples. 

The slanted grounding of their displeasure was evident in each case, however, so these overcast fulminations failed, in my case, to prompt any despondency.  In fact, what they said encouraged me to reflect on why countless people admire Hong Kong so much (as the uptick in tourist visits is steadily confirming).

Love of Hong Kong readily evolves for many moving to or brought up in this remarkable city.  This is so, notwithstanding the more challenging aspects of living here, like the hot humid summers (spiced with regular typhoons) the super-busy pedestrian traffic and cramped living conditions.  

Image: Jimmy Chan/ Pexels

Some, of course, just plain don’t like Hong Kong due to feeling too uncomfortable generally or for more intense political reasons and so on.  Though many in this category come to miss Hong Kong very much after they relocate to some presumed grass-is-greener destination like Australia, Canada, the UK or the US.

Some pivotal captivating factors

Many long-term residents who have experienced Hong Kong through thick and thin (including the 2019 insurgency) find, as a consequence, that they love Hong Kong yet more firmly.  At the same time, they naturally continue to grumble (as they should) about all the sundry negative aspects of living in Hong Kong that need to be put right. 

Image: Jimmy Chan/ Pexels

Meanwhile, Hong Kong adamantly retains its unique charisma.  It continues to be a remarkable, always changing and captivating place to live.  Enduring, varied factors that make it so include, above all, the pragmatic and intelligent people, plus the food, the endless energy and vivacity, the almost manic love-affair with education and the exceptionally beautiful, mountains-by sea, continental-tropical landscape. 

Plus, for many. the extraordinary, integrated public transport system is a clinching aspect of what makes Hong Kong such an engaging – and day-to-day, conspicuously safe and civilized place to live.  As it happens, Bloomberg reported, in 2022, that Hong Kong was ranked as having the best metropolitan public transit system in the world, ahead of Zurich, Stockholm, Singapore and Helsinki (see:

Image: B Roken/ Pexels

Meanwhile, across the Pacific

As the US emerged from its terrible Civil War in 1865 it began to boom as never before.  The rewards from this massive economic lift, which extended for around 100 years, were very unevenly distributed.  But the boom utterly transformed the US into an industrial powerhouse and, ultimately, into an unequalled global superpower.

The development of modern American transportation options was extraordinary to behold, whether urban, regional or transcontinental: railways and tramways and later, bus services simply spread everywhere.  These general advances were accompanied by a conspicuous burgeoning of the arts in all forms and not least in music.  A particular American phenomenon was the way music increasingly celebrated the transport revolution in popular songs like: Chattanooga Choo Choo; The Midnight Special, Rock Island Line, Freight Train and Casey Jones. 

Arguably the most memorable transport-tune was Take the ‘A’ Train, composed in 1939 by Billy Strayhorn (from Pittsburgh), which became the propulsive signature tune of the famed Duke Ellington orchestra (see: The A Train was New York subway line that ran, by then, from Brooklyn up into Harlem and northern Manhattan. Ellington wrote directions for Strayhorn on how to travel to his house in New York to discuss matters musical, literally advising him: To take the A Train (see:

The exceptional Hong Kong transit experience

Public transport systems and routes in Hong Kong are even more striking – and diverse – than in New York City, though none have had memorable songs written about them that I know of. 

One corridor that is always a treat to traverse by bus is Route Twisk, from Tsuen Wan to Shek Kong in the New Territories.  Originally built for military use (the views alone tell you one reason why) it was opened for public use in 1961.

Many residents have particular bus, tram, ferry, mini-bus and MTR services with which they feel serious personal affinity arising from long, regular usage.  For myself, the 970X bus route from West Kowloon to the Southern District on Hong Kong Island fits firmly into this category.  It provides a spin-off, express service from the older 970 route.  The original Kowloon terminus was at So Uk Estate.  This was later moved to Cheung Sha Wan.  In both cases the terminus on Hong Kong Island has remained Aberdeen. 

由 N509FZ – 自己的作品, CC BY-SA 4.0,

When I lived, for over a decade, in Sham Shui Po, the 970X provided a near door-to-door service to the West Gate at Hong Kong University (HKU) where I worked.  It was also via the 970X that I subsequently discovered my next compact abode, with a marvellous, local harbour view, in Aberdeen.  After relocating, the 970X still took me to and from HKU.  How would I have ever managed, I regularly wondered, without the 970X. 

Heading south, the route runs down Nathan Road, right through the bustling heart of Kowloon, before swinging right onto Jordan Road enroute to the Western Harbour Crossing.  The sea and island views from Pokfulam Road, loping down into Aberdeen, are always reliably breathtaking, especially from the upper-deck. 

Image by Oche33Pi WLAM/ Wikimedia Commons

Heading north the express-element means you swiftly descend from Pokfulam Road to the Western Harbour Crossing using the extraordinary Hill Road Flyover.  This is quite an experience: you have an eye-level view of domestic living rooms 12 floors up on either side as your full-sized, brightly enameled double-decker bus slips through a canyon of high-rise apartment blocks.   This would hard to beat in any global city, anywhere.

Hill Road Flyover snakes through the buildings. Image: Google Earth

The 970X remains the bus I use most frequently, with still undiminished delight.  It is deeply woven into my broader understanding of what makes Hong Kong so special.

If you are always looking down you will never see the sky

Notwithstanding the fact that Dr Roach and Lord Sumption have been looked after exceptionally well, while they have been based in Hong Kong, they both appear to have intuitively slipped into pining after their preferred understanding of a days-gone-by Hong Kong, when the Western influence was far more intense.  This has plainly helped nourish their ensuing critical evaluations.

Image: Aleksandar Pasaric/ Pexels

Yet, those who have loved Hong Kong through good and difficult times still owe them a debt.  Their energetically self-marketed, tilted assessments provide an excellent prompt – as we square the ledger – to reflect on our conspicuous good fortune to be living in this still uncommonly marvellous city, with its superb public transport system – and so much more.

Richard Cullen is an adjunct law professor at the University of Hong Kong and a popular writer on current affairs.

To see a list of articles he has written for this outlet, click this phrase.

Main image at top by Water White/ Pexels.

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