HONG KONG: A controversial new proposal to take Hong Kong’s beloved trams off the streets has sparked a wave of anger from residents who fear losing track of the city’s past.
Known as “ding-dings” for the sound of their bells, trams have served the northern coastline of the city’s main island for more than 110 years and still carry around 200,000 passengers a day.
As development changes the face of the city, sweeping away many of its historic landmarks, trams have survived in the face of growing competition from buses and the modern MTR metro system.
But a recent proposal to scrap part of the network has renewed fears that this unique piece of heritage is also under threat.
Thousands signed petitions against the suggestion that the tram service should be removed from the main financial district of Central.
The proposal was put forward to the government’s official town planning body by consultant Sit Kwok-keung, a former planner, who argues that it is too slow, blocks traffic and is unnecessary as the MTR expands.
The retired civil servant said putting the idea forward for debate is his “right and responsibility.”
“The tramway takes up a significant portion of the road. Its efficiency is rather low… I am trying to make Hong Kong transportation more efficient,” he told AFP.
The planning body will discuss the proposal in October, but the Hong Kong government has sought to reassure the traveling public by saying it had no plans to remove the trams.
But unease remains.
“Public sentiment is strongly against this idea,” activist Kwong Sum-yin, who is leading the “Save The Trams” campaign, told AFP.
“Trams are forward-looking as a form of zero-emission transport when the world is talking about sustainability.”
Kwong’s group, the Clean Air Network, is instead proposing a car-free zone in Central to ease congestion and make way for more trams to run.
“We are losing our history. That’s why Hong Kong people don’t want to see one more thing to go,” Kwong said.
Protests triggered by Sit’s proposal have even included a “Man vs. Tram” race to counter his claim trams are slow. About 40 people took on an in-service tram over nine kilometers, but even accounting for the tram’s numerous stops only a handful of competitors outran it.
One green group has galvanized 3,000 people to write to the town planning board to object to the proposal.
“It has a long history and it has got nostalgic elements,” said electrician Lau Chap-tong, 56, as he rode the tram in the residential neighborhood of Sai Ying Pun.