Hong Kong is a pioneer of the use of mass smart card technology in the form of their innovative expansion of the use of octopus cards. Just about everyone carries one of these, a rechargeable card passed over a scanner allowing access to almost every train, bus, minibus and ferry in Hong Kong. Several retail merchants now accept the cards as payment including Cafe de Coral, Starbucks, supermarkets and 7-Eleven.
The use of Octopus cards is expanding from anonymous to personalised use. Office buildings and residential housing blocks are adopting them as identification for main door and after hours access.
The cards may be acquired at MTR stations and require a $50 deposit. They may be topped up at value-adding machines, also at MTR stations, in $50 increments by cash or by using your ATM card.
The MTR is an underground subway system where you can conveniently transfer trains at certain points. It serves Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Fares vary depending on the distance being traveled. Prices range from approximately $4-$25.
The MTR is popular with locals because it is traffic free and convenient, with a station in almost every district. This mode of transportation can get crowded however, especially during rush hours.
The KCR is one of the most popular modes of transport for residents in the New Territories as it stretches from Kowloon all the way to Mainland China via the New Territories. This subway system currently provides three domestic passenger rail services.The initial railway of this corporation is East Rail, a suburban mass transit service operating between Tsim Sha Tsui and the boundary at Lo Wu and branching off to Ma On Shan at Tai Wai. West Rail opened in December 2003 as a mass transit service running between North West New Territories and urban Kowloon. The Light Rail was formerly a stand-alone transit service and now also a feeder service for West Rail. All of these networks are supported by feeder buses.
From the giant, lumbering double-deckers green and red-topped mini buses, there is a bus for every possible destination in Hong Kong.
The three main bus companies operating throughout the territory are the Kowloon Motor Bus Company (KMB) serving Kowloon and the New Territories; New World First Bus in Hong Kong only; and Citybus with routes in Hong Kong, New Territories and Kowloon.
Further to these main bus companies, Lantau Island is home to two bus companies. Most of these buses accept the Octopus card or exact change when you board. They stop only at designated zones. Fares range from $2.40 to $40.00 depending on where you are travelling.
Hong Kong's two tram routes are both institutions. The Peak Tram, which runs from Garden Road in Central to the Peak Tower, was originally constructed before there was road access. Now it used almost exclusively by tourists who take the ride for novelty value and the unique views of Hong Kong. A single adult trip costs $20 and monthly commuter passes are still available for those who wish to make regular use of the tram. (Peak Tram phone: 2522 0922).
Hong Kong's other tramway is also an antique, opened in 1904; these trams run along what used to be the island's northern shoreline. Their double-decker, un-air-conditioned cars are rickety and often crowded, but at $2.00, the flat fare for an adult, it is unbeatable in terms of price. Furthermore, a ride is a must as the tram's view of inner city Hong Kong is quite unique. Board the tram at the rear door, and exit from the front, paying your fare in exact change or by Octopus card as you leave.
The trams runs from 6:00am until 12:00 midnight seven days a week. The 161 trams in action run between Shau Kei Wan and Kennedy Town and around Happy Valley. There is also a 'party tram' available for rent.
The green mini-buses are privately operated, and carry 16-24 passengers on scheduled fixed routes. You may request stops anywhere on the route and can flag down a bus to board. Fares are posted and are paid as you board. Drivers sometimes make change. Routes are listed in the government publication, Hong Kong - A Guide to Public Services, available from the Government Publications Centre in Central.
Red mini-buses travel on varying routes to a specific destination. They are unscheduled and are free to operate anywhere except where special restrictions apply. The fares are posted and you may get on or off where you wish. Pay your fare as you exit. Drivers will make change for up to $20.00.
There is definitely no shortage of taxis in Hong Kong. Only during heavy rains and typhoons or late at night will it be potentially difficult to hail a ride.
Cabs are colour-coded depending on where they operate. There are 15,250 red urban taxis servicing Hong Kong and Kowloon, 2,838 green taxis in New Territories and 50 blue taxis on Lantau Island. And estimated 1.31 million passengers use taxis every day.
On Hong Kong Island, taxi fares are charged at HK$15.00 for the first two kilometres and HK$1.40 for every 200 metres afterwards. You must also pay all tunnel fees and $5.00 per each piece of luggage put in the trunk or oversized baggage in the taxi although this is not a strict rule. If you take your pet or cage, it will cost an extra $5.00. Fares in the New Territories are HK$12.50 for the first two kilometres and HK$1.20 per 200m after and on Lantau Island HK$12 and HK$1.20 respectively. Tipping is not necessary, but most cabbies will round the fare up to the nearest dollar.
Flagging a cab is easy; just put your hand out into the roadway and flap up and down a little at waist height. If you find that cabs will not stop, there may be a yellow line running along the curb indicating a no-stopping zone. Otherwise, there may be an "out of service" sign displayed in the cab's front window. If you are travelling to Kowloon from HK or vice versa, make a dipping motion with your hand to indicate going under the harbour.
Some places in Hong Kong, usually outside major shopping centres and at tourist attractions, have organised taxi queues. Some are well organised, however, occasionally you may have to use your wits and elbows to get a cab.
Language is usually not a problem as most HK cabbies are familiar with the city and environs. If you do have a communication problem, the driver will usually get you to talk with the radio dispatcher to sort things out.
Although Hong Kong is linked to the mainland by several tunnels, the territory's many outlying islands have only water access. Thus, the many ferries that ply Hong Kong waters are extremely important because they make it possible for outer islands to sustain significant populations.
There are three major passenger ferry companies in Hong Kong: Star Ferry, New World First Ferry and Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry.
The Star Ferry Company Limited was established in 1898 and uses 13 vessels. Their four cross-harbour links are from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui and to Hung Hom and from Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui and to Hung Hom. They run from 6.30am to 11.30pm and fares range from $1.70 to $5.30. (www.starferry.com.hk)
New World First Ferry Services Limited operates inner harbor and outlying island routes. These triple-decker ferries travel from Central to the outlying islands Peng Chau, Cheung Chau and Mui Wo (Lantau); from Tsim Sha Tsui to Mui Wo, Chi Ma Wan (Lantau) and Cheung Chau (weekends only); from Peng Chau to Mui Wo, Chi Ma Wan (Lantau) and Cheung Chau; and from North Point to Hung Hom / Kowloon City. Fares range from $4.50 to $31.00.
The Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry Company has services from Lamma Island to Central, Aberdeen and Pak Kok Tsuen. Fares are from $1.70 to $27.00. About 149,000 people use the local ferry services a day. This is a great way to travel, with many interesting buildings to observe on the way to your destination.
This 800-metre system consists of covered walkways, 20 reversible escalators and three travelators. Starting from Connaught Road Central, it runs to Des Voeux Road Central, passes through Central district to Conduit Road in Mid-levels. From one end to the other, it takes only 20 minutes to complete the journey, much quicker and energy efficient than walking. At HK$205 million, this is the longest covered outdoor escalator system in the world and took two and a half years to build. Now, approximately 36,000 use this free system per day.