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September 3rd, 2015:

Begone trams and TST promenade! What next? Eiffel Tower?

The old assertion “great minds think alike” – which triggers the riposte: “fools never differ” – comes to mind with recent ideas to ‘improve’ local iconic landmarks.

First of all there’s the astonishing proposal to remove green trams from Central to Admiralty to allow more smoke-spewing trucks and private cars into one of the city’s most polluted areas. Secondly there’s the similarly outrageous idea to put top tourist and residents’ draw, the Tsim Tsa-tsui Promenade, off limits for several years for an upgrade.

In the first case, the ridiculous reasoning is that tram-free roads will reduce traffic flow – but for whom? Cars and trucks. Get rid of the latter and the trams will run freely in a pedestrian-friendly zone in line with city centers in advanced cities worldwide. In the second case, the TST waterfront supposedly needs improving so who cares if all strollers are deprived of the magnificent harbor panorama? Who cares if many tourists stay away for the next three or more years until the work is completed – it’s progress stupid! Hang on, isn’t TST as a tourist magnet a package: the shopping, the buzz and the breathtaking harborside views? And what do we eventually get by closing off this star attraction? It’s not exactly earth-shattering; a performance venue and another restaurant or two. Meanwhile given the great largesse of the developer, pouring money into a no-profit venture, surely, along the line, there should be compensation n’est-ce pas? Well how about squeezing in another tower or two into the adjoining area? Déjà vu anyone?

Back to losing the trams. This piece of genius – to be official-planner considered – came from a retired member of their ilk who runs a consultancy, called “Intellects”. No, I didn’t make this up. Ease dire traffic congestion in central by removing the trams he says.

However an Environmental Protection Department study, under the co-remit of their undersecretary, the capable environmentalist, and former pan-democrat camp legislator, Christine Loh Kung-wai, came to the admirable conclusion that private cars were the main culprit in traffic congestion in Central. Heaven forbid the thought that senior town planners thinking of their own chauffeur-driven convenience at the expense of nearly everyone else? Banish the thought! How could hugely paid officials whose job it is to plan according to the welfare of the public sacrifice the needs and convenience of the millions for their benefit? Unthinkable.

The counter argument to the continued running of trams is that they are slow, rattling, nostalgic remnants of a bygone age that have outlived their usefulness. Why use that form of public transport when there’s the MTR? Convenience; more frequent stops than buses, and many more stations than the MTR. Then there’s the view for tourists and locals alike at a speed which allows passengers to take it in. Not least there’s the heritage value, an undoubted tourism asset is their age and uniqueness – the only two-deck tram service in the world. Lastly they are pollution-free road vehicles, and that’s where the world is going. Trams are coming back.

Let’s not forget that for civil service and government transport decision-makers MTR trumps trams. This proposal could be the thin end of the wedge. Then why not in future expand the tram-free zone; then why not get rid of the dinosaurs altogether?

If these plans go ahead there’s more at stake than temporary shut down of the promenade and part loss of the trams. I mean not everybody loves the TST Avenue of Stars and many people rarely of never take the trams, which are slow, rattly, and through their open windows expose people to highly polluted streets.