Train to the Southern District
MTR South Island Line may cause more inconvenience than benefit to the community
by Tiffany Lui
The Mass Transit Railway Corporation (MTR) has recently announced that due to the construction work in Admiralty station, the South Island Line (East) may launch at early 2017.
The South Island Line (East) will connect the Southern District, including Ocean Park, Wong Chuk Hang, Lei Tung and South Horizons, to the existing Admiralty station.
The Southern District has been suffering from serious traffic congestion for decades since most of the vehicles rely on the Aberdeen Tunnel to get to the heart of Hong Kong Island.
The Transport Department has put forward a proposal to establish several new bus and minibus routes to improve traffic congestion in the Southern district, after consultation and looking at the data from the bus and minibus companies.
Several new routes will be established – for example, minibus 51B that links Tin Wan Estate with the future Wong Chuk Hang MTR station – but other routes will be rerouted or cancelled, like Citybus 71 and 75, which serves Central and Wong Chuk Hang.
Some commuters are skeptical about the ability of the new MTR line in resolving traffic problems. They believe that the plan will bring more inconvenience to the Southern District.
Nine community interest groups – including Western District Transport, SH Concern Group and Imaging Wong Chuk Hang – have set up a Concern Alliance to call for actions to bring residents’ voices to the Transport Department and the Southern District Council.
“I think the Transport Department has underestimated the number of people who travel in and out of the district everyday during peak hours,” Clive Law Siu-yin, a member of the South Island Line Concern Alliance, said.
According to the MTR website, there will be a total of ten trains, each with three carriages, serving the South Island Line (East). Law is concerned that the number of people who will be affected by the cancellation of bus routes in the Southern District is larger than the number of people the MTR line can serve.
Changes to bus and minibus routes serving the Southern District will be carried out within three to six months. But the Concern Alliance believes that these changes may not serve the community well.
Charles Lee Chun-sang, another member of the Alliance, said that the Transport Department should survey new travelling habits after the Line opens, before changing bus and minibus services.
The Alliance is also skeptical about the statistics and proposals that the Transport Department is giving to the Southern District Council, as it favours some transportation service providers, such as the Citybus and New World First Bus.
“The bus company conducted the survey when secondary school students were having exams and university students were having a semester break. The number of passengers must be fewer than normal. They didn’t even mention where they conducted the survey. How can these unclear and unrealistic results be a reference used in the council?” Law said.
District Councillor and member of the Traffic and Transport Committee, Henry Chai Man-hon was also skeptical of the statistics and surveys provided by the Transport Department.
Both Chai and the Alliance believe that the Transport Department is not looking for the best travel routes for the district, but instead is helping the bus companies to maximise their profits.
Lee criticised the Citybus for giving up some bus routes in the district. “It is very irresponsible for the bus company to do so,” Lee said.
Some have also suggested that the bus companies would not stand to benefit from the Transport Department’s plans, since it prioritises the South Island Line. Chai disagrees.
“The bus company has been asking for the cancellation of the routes as it brings very low profit to them,” Chai said..
“Luckily, we successfully stopped the Transport Department from using some of the survey data collected by the bus company,” he said.
Chai criticised the Transport Department for insufficient consultation and research before proposing reforms to the bus routes. “They have only done a consultancy report and collected residents’ opinion through district councillors. They should have done more,” he said.
Chai also thinks that the department is trying to cover up transport problems by delaying discussion in the District Council.
“It is already very close to the opening date of the South Island Line and the Transport Department has not yet put the proposals into the District Council’s meeting agenda, giving us very little time to discuss and react. It is definitely an executive hegemony,” Chai criticised.
In the District Council, Chai hoped the government could give the community a reasonable plan for the transportation system in the Southern District.
While District Councillors are doing their part in the meetings, the Alliance would like to get the community more involved in their actions.
“Although we are concerned that we only have a few helpers, we are going to distribute some leaflets and maybe call for action in the coming weeks, so as to give the community a better transportation system,” Lee said.
(Edited by Jonathan Chan)