Transportation Deployment Casebook/2018/Hong Kong MTR

Qualitative AnalysisEdit

Hong Kong Metro otherwise more commonly known as Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is the major railway network operating in Hong Kong using Heavy Rail, Light Rail and bus service. The proposal was first put forward in 1960's and the first passenger train was opened in 1980's and has been running now for 38 years. As of 2018, there are over 5 million daily passengers with 1.6 billion passengers annually, 11 rail lines (inclusive of heavy and light rail), 218.2km of rail including 159 stations and has the highest farebox recovery ratio (187%) of any metro system in the world making it the most profitable. Due to the MTR's high popularity and being well received globally as an efficient traffic network, many cities look towards Hong Kong as a viable and sustainable mass rapid transit railway dependent on accompanying and beneficial transport policies and development strategies.[1]

Mode DescriptionEdit

The Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway is a predominantly underground transport network serving Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. The infrastructure is characterized by roughly 60-70% percent of the rail network underground due to the uniqueness of Hong Kong's urbanisation (Topography, cultural attitudes, political and economic circumstances and strong planning intervention). MTR trains have over 99% reliability such that most of its passengers are unaffected by varying traffic conditions and operate for roughly 19 hrs a day,7 days a week. [2]During peak hour, trains run at roughly 2 - 2.5 minute intervals and 5-6 minutes for off peaks. This consistency has led to Hong Kong warmly embracing this transport mode and even though it is of higher cost compared to other public transport modes.

The MTR uses either the standard gauge (1435mm) or rail gauge (1432mm) with 7 different electric multiple unit rolling stocks. Most of the trains have the standard 8 car carriages per train but due to the high patronage across all railway lines, some have 9 and even up to 12 car carriages. It can accommodate approximately 2500 patrons on the standard MTR eight-car train. The trains operate on automatic signal control and protection systems which help regulates the distance between travelling trains, calculates the optimal rates of acceleration and deceleration and optimal cruising velocity. The ticketing system was fully automatic with entry and exit barriers at all stations which along with the introduction of the Octopus card in 1997, made the use of public transport smooth and efficient.

The SceneEdit

Like many cities after the end of World War 2, population grew by 1.5 million and by the 1960's, road traffic congestion due to the rise in public transport numbers, burgeoning car dependence and deteriorating public transport standards as well as many other factors has led to the public transport system being scrutinised very heavily and needed major overhaul.[3] This was due to heavy war migration where many refugees had financial resources and professional experience stimulating unprecedented growth in Hong Kong. The increase in population size also led to serious problems in terms of housing, sanitation and social services.

After a Traffic and Transport Survey held by the Hong Kong Government from 1964-1966 noted that "If not entirely unique, Hong Kong's traffic problems are somewhat unusual and different from most urban areas of the world. Elsewhere traffic planners are attempting to arrest the transfer of as many passengers as possible from public to private transport. In Hong Kong such problems do not arise. Rather the situation is that each year the profit making public transport companies find it more difficult to put extra capacity on to already over-crowded routes." This began the first attempts of transport planning in both long term and short-term efforts in improving all modes of public transport.[4]

Local transport systems have invariably affected both urban form and structure (Vuchic 1981) can be observed with the radial networks concentrating the city centres and suburban housing along the routes in old industrial western societies located in Europe and America. This is the same even with the emergence of MTR in Hong Kong with all major mode of public transport still being widely considered and are constantly evolving. The biggest and most heavily used modes prior to the emergence of MTR were ferries, tramways and buses.

Water-borne transport such as ferries have always been favoured due to Hong Kong's large natural harbour but it has always had to make do with what's been given. Ferry piers have always been constantly relocated due to land reclamation and thus have been moved further away from the major hubs. Also, passengers who use ferries often uses other land transport modes to reach their destination resulting in their overall cost and time being far greater than purely land route alternatives. Thus, ferries have been on a steady decline as more financial resources are devoted towards more road and rail projects.

Electric tramways have been in Hong Kong since 1904 and is among one of the world's most heavily used tram systems with the world's busiest tram route in a single corridor. It still had a high number of daily passengers which meant that it did not disappear or fell into a need for upgrades by the time MTR opened. However, given the similarities in modes and purpose between tramways and MTR, most passengers preferred to use the more convenient and faster railway.

The bus industry has been constantly growing since the 1930's and due to the different kinds of bus services available, reliance on buses remains a must given the highly condensed density of Hong Kong's urban areas. Congestion levels were somewhat relieved with increased capacity in the double deckers replacing the smaller single deckers but despite all this, many bus companies did not respond appropriately to increasing travel demand. This was due to cautious and conservative management failing to match the demand and understanding that for busses to be effective, they require unimpeded traffic flow. Buses are highly flexible and with the combination of high capacity buses serving mainly highly congested regions and public light buses (Green and Red minibus) serving lesser routes for geometric or economic reasons. The public light buses are however inefficient in road space and whilst they are a good short-term response for quick and convenient travel, they are the major contributors to congestion. Given the public criticism during the 1960's and 70's, many wanted alternatives other than just buses with above-ground transport becoming heavily matured.


Hong Kong MTR was built-constrained due to brownfield sites which meant that logistics and underground engineering problems are the most challenging aspects in already built-up areas. The metropolitan railway is not considered a new invention but is rather quite an established idea but this would be one of the first implemented with a long-term plan set out to integrate land use and public transport. In the construction process, there were two dominant proposals, 'cut and cover construction which involves the excavation of existing streets for the railway right of way and 'tunnel construction' more commonly known as (TBM). Underground construction is an expensive venture and thus the first two lines were constructed using 'cut and cover' due to costs but the public voiced their discontent with the traffic detours and disruption to businesses. The third line (Island Line) was then built using tunnelling construction so that disturbance could be minimized.

After the success of the Island Line, most rail projects undertaken by MTR have now been done using tunnel construction. The modern tunnelling method uses TBMs which has evolved over the years to become a safe and environmentally friendly way to build railway tunnels and given the difficult topography, urban environment and infrastructure, this simplifies many engineering considerations. MTR Corporation Limited does all the construction and has been so successful that they have now been asked to work on other global projects as well.

Early Market Development

The emergence of a rapid transit railway line as an alternative transport choice was quickly accepted as many felt that the standards of the bus networks ran by CMB and KMB falling lower. The use of tramways and ferries were outdated and did not fully cater to the whole of Hong Kong especially those living in the New Territories. There was the KCR railway which did serve the New Territories but was underused and thought of as a minor mode. All these modes had the benefits for already being in operation so the quality was improved throughout with improvements in services but financial resources would be better suited in a new market. There were limitations in all the existing modes as they were either underused or fully mature with no easy fix in sight, an underground railway was proposed as the solution.

A heavy metro network is categorised by having stations spaced at least one kilometre apart and with only commercial travel, train average velocities would be much greater than those of automobile nature. Also unlike some other modes, MTR stations would be located at where predicted patronage volumes would be greatest thus collecting more of the traffic and relieving congestion along the roads.

The role of policy in Birthing Phase

Hong Kong began to commit itself towards the Laissez faire economics introducing an era of transport planning and regulation. This first began with the Hong Kong Traffic and Transport Survey in 1964 and has continued with studies on transport modes involving the public to determine the effectiveness of current transport policy and possible future policy options. Regarding the MTR, the Hong Kong Government wanted to regulate the bus services which served the same purpose as the railway so that there would be heavier reliance on the MTR. Throughout the last 35 years of operation, the government has relaxed on regulations and rather imposed on private operators such that by working together, profits would be abound to everyone given that passenger demand was so high.

Policy considerations needs to be closely monitored due to the diversity of transport alternatives developed so the planning for a new mass transit railway line must be precise and have fall-back measures. As most of the modes compete directly with each other and some even offer its own particular advantages. As MTR runs its own operations, it can charge higher fares compared to other modes with benefits of comfort due to its spaciousness and Air-Conditioning. MTR states that the most important advantages are its speed and reliability rather than just being efficient and cost-effective proven by the public's continued usage.

Growth of the ModeEdit

Over the last three decades, MTRC Limited has continued to develop and grow with new expansions from the original 3 lines to multiple extensions including a specific airport line, merge and take-over with the KCR operations, station and operation upgrades (cross-platform interchange and the introduction of the Octopus card) and an effective transport policy in integrating land use and transport development.

MTR has expanded with new transport projects such as the Airport Connection due to the new construction of a new airport and the Tseung Kwan O line to help ease congestion and improve public relations. This was all done around the turn of the century. MTR has not done a lot of constructing of new lines but rather extended existing lines to improve its reliability and reduce planning times and costs. Furthermore, there has been relative success of each line extension in helping ease congestion and interlocking rail lines suggesting that there has been good positive management from MTRC Ltd.

Another reason why there has not been a lot of construction is the merge with KCRC albeit forcibly by the government to make MTR the only rail operator in Hong Kong. This gave control of operations and fares of the 3 KCR lines (East Rail Line, Ma On Shan Line and West Rail Line) all over to MTR. The integration of these 3 lines into the MTR network have been smooth and demonstrates its technical expertise in its metro planning and operations.

MTR has been a pioneer in technological advancements where many other metro networks have followed suit. MTR has the first cross-platform interchange where passengers are able to get off the train and walk to the opposing platform to travel in the opposite direction on a different line. This made travelling from platform to platform easier and allowed for more efficient transfers of passengers as passengers did not require any waiting time to travel to another line. This is due to the guaranteed schedule interchange provided by MTR. Furthermore, with the inclusion of the smart card 'Octopus' on the MTR, it made collecting fares easier and quicker with a standard transaction time of approximately 0.3 seconds. The Octopus card also charges a lesser price than standard single-use tickets making it more attractive with over 33 million cards in circulation.

Integrated Public Transport is something MTR has heavily emphasized in the 21st century such that their main transport policy is to strongly utilize public services and land development. This will generally lead to an enhancement in efficiency and service quality but with competitive public transport modes, MTR and the Hong Kong Government has recognized that regulation of prices and proper provision and expansion are effective measures. The planning between land use and transport development ensures that the transport infrastructure built and service established for the early development of a new town will be an integral part of the transport network as the community grows. The policy of constructing high-capacity and resource infrastructures such as new MTR lines only when the new town has grown to a particular point, with the intention that the population of the new town will then have grown to a level that will generate sufficient demand to financially sustain the rail service has not been fully successful for Hong Kong. This policy has resulted in oversupply of transport services as bus services are still used by the residents out of habit. Therefore, it is more advisable to build a rail line in phases, in coordination with progressive stages of development of the new town such that the railway is then extended together combined with the expansion of the new town.  The objective is to maintain the provision of an optimal and well-coordinated transport network serving the new town through its different stages of development.

Development during the mature phaseEdit

As MTR learns from its past mistakes and finish off current projects, future plans include increasing experience for construction delivery, configuration of seamless integration and commissioning and continuation of excellence in customer experience. There have been pushes for MTR to be more active in their projects rather than react to public outcry or as congestion levels rise such that the transport network can be at its most optimal stage. As the MTR has not reached the maturity stage of its lifecycle, we can only assume that there are new projects to keep up with the demand of the Hong Kong population and continue reaching out to the unreached communities.

Quantitative AnalysisEdit

The data for the annual ridership can be found from 1981 to the current year where there are two major changes in the data is located in figure 1.[5] The first in the turn of the century is associated with a stagnation and decline of around 3.5% due to the effects of policy of service proliferation and competition prevailed. The second increase in 2007 is due to the merge with KCR and there is an increase in passenger numbers and revenue.

Figure 1. Annual Ridership of Hong Kong MTR


The data was then used to estimate a three-parameter logistic function:

S(t) = K/[1+exp(-b(t-to)]


S(t) is the predicted annual ridership; to is the inflection point at which ½ K is achieved.

The S(t) formula can be transformed to get the following linear relationship:

Y = LN(Ridership/(K - Ridership))=c + b×t


b from the S-curve

c = -b * to

References:Edit (Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics April 1997) (Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics April 1999)

Dimitriou, H.T. and Cook H.S., (1998): Land-Use/Transport Planning in Hong Kong: The end of an Era, Ashgate Publishing Ltd.

Dimitriou, H.T., (1992): The Hong Kong urban transport policy agenda: a review. In: Presented to Seminar on Urban Transport Policy & Planning, Hong Kong.

Zhao, T. J., & Siu, K. W. M. (2014). The boundaries of public space: A case study of Hong Kong’s mass transit railway. International Journal of Design, 8(2), 43-60.

Tang, S. and Lo, H., (2008) The Impact of Public Transport Policy on the Viability and Sustainability of Mass Railway Transit—Hong Kong Experience. Transportation Research Part A 42, 563–576.

Tang, S., Lo, H. and Wang D., (2008) Managing the accessibility on mass public transit: The case of Hong Kong - Journal of Transport and Land Use 1:2 pp. 23-49

Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics 1984 - Results of the 1981 Special Survey on Transport Characteristics

Lau J., (1997): The performance of public transport operations, land-use and urban transport planning in Hong Kong, Elsevier Science Ltd., The Centre of Urban Planning and Environmental Management, University of Hong Kong

Sharon Cullinane (2003) Attitudes of Hong Kong residents to cars and public transport: Some policy implications, Transport Reviews, 23:1, 21-34, DOI: 10.1080/01441640309900

Sharon Cullinane and Kevin Cullinane (2003): Car dependence in a public transport dominated city: evidence from Hong Kong, Transport Research Part D: Transport and Environment Volume 8, Issue 2

Luk, James and Olszewski, Piotr, (Dec 2003): Integrated Public Transport in Singapore and Hong Kong, Road and Transport Research; Nunawading Vol 12, Issue 4 pg. 41-51

Vuchic (1981): Urban public transportation: Systems and Technology, John Wiley and Sons

Case Study: Hong Kong SAR, China’s Story Railway and Transport Strategy Centre The Operator’s Story, World Bank Group Imperial College London

MTR Project Journals Issue 6: Present Gains Future Position

MTR Project Journals Issue 3: Building Railways in the City

  1. Case Study: Hong Kong SAR, China’s Story Railway and Transport Strategy Centre The Operator’s Story, World Bank Group Imperial College London
  2. MTR Project Journals Issue 3: Building Railways in the City
  3. (Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics April 1999)
  4. Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics 1984 - Results of the 1981 Special Survey on Transport Characteristics
  5. Dimitriou, H.T. and Cook H.S., (1998): Land-Use/Transport Planning in Hong Kong: The end of an Era, Ashgate Publishing Ltd.