Millions of people take the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) in Hong Kong. The difference between transit-oriented development in Hong Kong and the US is vast, with Hong Kong showing up as a strong standard to match. Hong Kong’s secret is that the MTR is both the transit authority and a property owner. This cuts out a lot of disputes between agencies and developers and streamlines an integrated approach — they are on the same page from the start.
Instead of second-best compromises, Hong Kong has a unified plan that works best in almost all ways. In fact, not only does the MTR own local residential properties and offices, but it may even own the local mall that pays in to help transport people to its shops. The MTR is actually the property owner of two of the tallest skyscrapers in Hong Kong.
Compare Hong Kong’s system to subway in New York, a city that suffers many complaints based on troubling issues in transit. A recent Quartz article calls MTR “the gold standard for transit management worldwide.”
In New York, there are complaints of always-increasing rises in fares. Services never seem to improve despite the rise of ticket prices. And, in truth, ticket sales only fund part of the New York City subway system. Supplementary city taxes and government grants keep trains running. Fares only cover roughly 45% of the daily operating costs. To affect system expansions, upgrades, and repairs, more agencies such as the state and federal grants have to take part. This, as well as capital market bonds, must be involved.
The deeper structural difference that makes Hong Kong this success is historical in the sense that the NYC subway was built more than a hundred years ago, opening in 1904, and the MTR was developed in the later 1970s for Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a relatively enclosed metropolitan area, meaning that there are no suburbs that cars can travel to and from. No commuting makes for low car ownership. In the US, about 70 out of 100 vehicles are from personal use. In Hong Kong, the number is only 6 out of 100.
Market Urbanism, in “Why No One Drives to Work in Hong Kong,” notes: “The MTR owns real estate around each station in the system and integrates rail and property planning so that the development of one supports the development of the other.” Mass transit, residences, offices, cafes, restaurants, and retail shops are much more interconnected, creating a dense and pedestrian-friendly urban environment of mixed properties. Walkability is encouraged and possible with 41% or more of Hong Kong’s population living near a station.
In the energy industry, decentralization has promoted progress, thanks to newly competitive renewable energy options. However, in regards to metro transportation and urbanization, Hong Kong’s success is one of centralized orientation that makes its metro work so well. The question is, what lessons could the US actually learn and implement from this?
Sister site GAS2 comes up with one recommendation in this article: Here’s An Idea: Tax Drivers Instead Of Raising LA Metro Fares. The idea enhance not only the metro ridership, but offers to offset traffic by decreasing the cars on the road at the same time. It seems like a good, win-win idea.
Safety is another issue US metro systems fall short on compared to Asia and Europe, according to BBC‘s “Subways systems by the numbers.” Copenhagen, a city worth considering for all things transit-related, has a strong focus on safety and convenience. Hong Kong has also increased safety measures with proper placement of protection devices. They installed platform safety doors that have reduced railway suicides by 60%.
It is a valuable time to improve mass transit, as Americans are turning towards ridership on the metro — with the highest transit ridership level in 57 years coming in 2013. The US enjoyed a record 10.7 billion rides on public transportation in 2013, according to the latest annual report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Regardless of whether the US can affect a centralized approach to mass transit, it is time to improve and expand our metro systems.
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Image Credits: Luke Ma (CC BY 2.0); Francisco Martins (CC BY-NC 2.0); Swire (CC BY-NC 2.0); See-ming Lee (CC BY 2.0)
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