Thursday, May 3, 2007

Arguably the World's Best Public Transit

It's great to be back in Hong Kong. I lived here for seven years and it's the efficiency and orderliness of the place that I love so much. It's a city that works. Of course it's not perfect -- there are developers gouging people who are just trying to make a living, or the government ignoring its citizens who are clamouring for universal suffrage.

But it's a city that moves people in an efficient, relatively inexpensive and clean way.

May I present the Mass Transit Railway - MTR for short. Or M-T-R-low (in Cantonese English).

When I arrived in 1994, there were only three lines. Today there are seven. They connect people to practically every major district in the city, both Hong Kong island and Kowloon.

To pay your fare, you use an Octopus card, an electronic card you add money to and not only can you use it on the MTR, but the bus, ferry, even buy stuff at 7-11 and some boutiques too. Oh yes and you can pay your parking with a beep of the card.

The directions and routes are clearly laid out so you don't have to wonder if you're going the right way. And there are announcements in Cantonese, Putonghua and English. It's a bit more expensive than the bus, but hey -- if you need to cross Victoria harbour in five minutes, you will get there taking the MTR.

Many of the stations are connected to shopping malls or underground areas so you don't have to get wet crossing the road when there's a typhoon or rain storm.

And did I say it was clean? Hardly ever see a piece of trash, or drink stains or food anywhere.

I was last in Hong Kong six months ago and this time some of the stations I've been to have included several TV screens mounted in major areas with news updates. This is fantastic in case there is breaking news or a major weather announcement.

[Insert your own transit authority] are you listening?

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