Hong Kong is a place sometimes referred to as a city that never sleeps, apparently in reference to the high level of activity late at night and available services round the clock.
For example, the operation of shopping malls extend past 10pm, a number of McDonald’s operate 24-hours a day, and certain bus routes operate round-the-clock has not discouraged people from going home earlier for fear of missing the ride home or sleeping with empty stomach.
Should the MTR, the city’s most efficient means of transport, follow the route London Underground’s Night Tube launch and implement 24-hour operation?
No is our answer.
1. The current MTR system already operates almost 20 hours a day. That’s about 5:30am to 1:30am the following morning. During that hectic 20-hour operation, carriages are under pressure to accommodate an average of 4.58 million passengers. Like us humans, the MTR also needs to rest, with maintenance jobs, engine, mechanical and electrical check ups necessary to keep the subway system arguably one of the world’s most clean, on-time and reliable.
2. We want to keep fares low. The MTR occasionally breaks its early morning maintenance check as it serves an unusually large number of passengers during Lunar New Year’s Eve and Mid-Autumn Festival. You may call it a business decision as the cost to operate the whole network is marginally higher with respect to expected revenue. We have been complaining of fare hikes of 2%, and higher rates are expected if operating costs soar.
3. There are many other options. There are reasons people stay late at night knowing that the MTR is going to close a little after 1am: it is necessary such as work arrangements or confidence that even if the trains are not in operation. Minibuses, taxis, double-deckers operating night buses and Uber are among the options people can take. Intervals for public transport are expected to be longer but at least there is assurance a route should serve you on your way home.
4. Maintenance work at train stations. The brief break the MTR has will be utilized not only to maintain the upkeep of the carriages, it is also a time for clean up of stations, replacement of billboards and other tasks that cannot be done at least properly while trains are in operation. Look at other cities that have 24-hour service for reference.
Opening up the MTR operations 24 hours a day certainly brings boost to some businesses, but there are also disadvantages and safety of passengers and operational efficiency are among those possibly compromised. When we see occasional breakdowns during daytime operations, it shows signs the system has to be looked into more closely. The brief suspension of operations every day helps achieve that purpose.
The MTR is a much recognized symbol of Hong Kong’s efficient transport system. By taking appropriate care, we can continue to be proud of it.