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.
Hong Kong’s beloved MTR network will soon enter a new era with new trains, new stations and a brand new line
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.