What public transport in the United States could learn from Hong Kong’s MTR

What public transport in the United States could learn from Hong Kong’s MTR

Our city’s public transport system is one of the best in the world

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Local residents may take our excellent public transport system for granted.
Photo: David Wong/SCMP

Something I’ve come to take for granted in Hong Kong is the city’s excellent public transport system. I have become so accustomed to pleasant, timely journeys on the MTR that, when I went back to my hometown in the United States, I experienced reverse culture shock when refamiliarising myself with the American way of travel. 

Not long after I returned home, I took a trip on a bus. Although I knew US buses had something of a bad reputation, nothing would prepare me for what I was about to experience.

My destination was a shopping centre about 9km away – far by Hong Kong standards, but normal for an American suburb. I checked the schedule and saw that buses stopped every 45 minutes near my house. The bus showed up 10 minutes late, and there wasn’t a single passenger on it. I got off half-way because I had to catch another bus to get to my destination. After waiting for 30 minutes, though, it became clear that I had missed it because my bus was late, and it was another 20 minutes before I was finally on my way. The entire trip cost me US$5.50 (HK$43) and an hour and a half of my time. I called my mother for a lift home at the end of the day instead of taking the bus again. 


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My experience, while funny to read about, illustrates a more important point.

Public transport plays a huge role in the lives of people who don’t, or can’t, drive. Many people cannot afford to own a car, or are too young to drive, and their lives shouldn’t have to come to a standstill just because they have to rely on public transport.

Before coming to Hong Kong, I had never been able to do even the most basic tasks on my own. I couldn’t get to a doctor’s appointment, go grocery shopping, or even pop out for lunch. Living in Hong Kong gave me a new degree of independence. I didn’t have to rely on my parents to take me anywhere or do anything. When I went back to the US, that independence was stripped away from me.

I don’t have any data to back this up, but I would be willing to bet young people who have the opportunity to manage their own affairs at a younger age (thanks to being able to go out and about on their own) have an easier time adjusting to adult life. A society comprising independent young adults is surely better than one where adolescents rely on their parents to drive them around. 


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Another benefit of a transport system such as the MTR is that it helps people who are struggling with their finances. For many young people, the price of a car (plus insurance, tolls, and fuel) is simply not affordable on an entry-level salary. Taking, say, the bus can help them cut costs and save up money. In Hong Kong, almost everyone uses the MTR or a bus to get to work. Public transport in the US is both more expensive and less efficient than Hong Kong’s, and is a hassle. 

All things considered, public transport is one of the most important services a government can provide to its citizens. It’s an essential service, and should not be overlooked or taken for granted. Hong Kong’s world-class public transport system is a proud marker of the city’s development, and should be emulated by other countries in the world.

They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I learned that lesson the hard way. Maybe if US politicians took a ride or two on Hong Kong’s MTR, they’d realise what the US is missing out on.

Edited by Ginny Wong

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
What the US could learn from the MTR

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