MTR Neighbourhood vs. Bus Neighbourhood — New Town Edition

TL;DR

How the commuting patterns vary among the new towns in Hong Kong? Why are there more bus travellers or subway travellers in each new town? This article presents the dominate commuting type in the selected new towns. You could dig deeper into the design pattern of the new towns.

A year ago, I made a map and wrote an article to show the overall commute pattern of Hong Kong, aiming to show how dominant MTR is as a commuting transport. As a follow-up at that time, I tried to dig the topic a little bit deeper by looking into the commuting pattern in new towns.

And then I forgot about it.

Maybe this is about time to reveal and study the pattern again. This time, the focus in about new towns. There planning vision formulated during the development of new towns would, to a certain extent, affect how the public transport system is planned. All these transport infrastructures, in the end, affect how people choose their mode of travel from the bed to the office desk.

Travel patterns in selected new towns

This article takes 4 out of the 12 new towns in Hong Kong for some quick review of their travel pattern. They are:

  • Tsuen Wan (TW)
  • Tai Po (TP)
  • Tuen Mun (TM)
  • Tseung Kwan O (TKO)

(Why do so many new towns start with the word T?)

Tsuen Wan

With two MTR stations placed at the south and the north side of the town centre, nearly 40% of residents take MTR as the main means of commute. Excluding the Sham Tseung area, the areas with bus commuters dominate are Lei Muk Shue Estate (梨木樹邨) and Cheung Shan Estate (象山邨) only. Still, the modes of travel available are much more versatile compared to other new towns.

Tai Po

The commuting behaviour in second-generation new towns differs one by one. Here lets put the lens to Tai Po New Town and Tuen Mun New Town.

The commute pattern of Tai Po New Town is quite complex. While the residents living in the town centre usually choose buses, some housing estates (怡雅苑, 新興花園, 大埔超級城) are dominated by MTR commuters. With the Tai Po Market station located quite far away from the current town centre, buses sometimes are a better commute choice.

Tuen Mun

Tuen Mun and Ma On Shan are the only two new towns with the number of bus commuters overrides the number of MTR commuters. Although Tuen Mun residents are famous for how they hate the Tuen Mun Highway, a number of them still prefer buses. Seems residents of Tuen Mun find that squeezing inside the West Rail Line brings more desperation than endlessly waiting (and sleeping) on their way home in Tuen Mun Road.

The “attraction area” of Tuen Mun station is significantly smaller than other stations. The “spread” of red colour from Siu Hong Station and Tuen Mun Station somehow reflects it. In Tuen Mun south, the majority of commuters prefers bus than MTR. After all, the detour of the West Rail Line to Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai is not a short journey. If Tuen Mun Road is not in a traffic jam again, those route 9XX buses would be like jumbo jet bursting you though Tuen Mun Road, Route 3 and then to the Western Harbour Crossing and North of the Hong Kong Island.

Tseung Kwan O

As a new town planned in the mid-1980s where the MTR system started to expand exponentially, Tseung Kwan O (TKO) is intrinsically an “MTR new town”. The residential properties built on top of the stations and mega-size shopping malls built around them blend the MTR station to the daily life of the residents. The ONE AND ONLY street block in TKO new town with bus commuters taking the majority is Tsui Lam Estate (翠林邨). As obvious as it is, it is a public housing estate located far far away from the Po Lam MTR Station.

Comparing between new towns

The chart below summarises the workers’ main transport mode in each new town. Each bar represents one new town. The colour inside each bar breaks down the proportion of workers by each major transport mode to work. The longer the coloured portion stretches, a higher percentage of workers in that new town choose that transport as his/her main commute mode. For reference, the total number of workers with a fixed place of work in each town are listed on the left. New towns are ordered by their age, with the oldest (Tsuen Wan) on the top and the latest (North Lantau/Tung Chung) on the bottom.

Stacked bar chart of share of commuters of major transport mode to work by new towns

What this chart is telling us? Here are three quick giveaways:

The MTR-dependent Tseung Kwan O

One instant highlight is that Tseung Kwan O New Town has the largest percentage of commuters choosing MTR. Again, this is never surprising as the design of TKO New Town is transit-oriented. To a great extent, this implies MTR-station-oriented design. Meanwhile, Tseung Kwan O Tunnel is another highway notorious for traffic jams. Taking buses sounds not a great idea, especially when you are rushing back to the office in northern Hong Kong Island.

Would the opening of Tseung Kwan O — Lam Tin Tunnel promote bus commuting for TKO residents? Let’s see.

More bus commuters ≠ fewer MTR commuters, vice versa

The percentage of MTR commuters and bus commuters in new towns do not significantly have a negative correlation. The first four new towns (Tsuen Wan, Kwai Chung, Tsing Yi and Sha Tin) has a similar share of MTR commuters (around 39% to 41%). However, the ratio of bus commuters varies tremendously between 24% to 36%.

Fading out of non-MTR/Bus commute pattern

While buses and MTR are the two major transport modes, do not forget about their commuting methods — light buses, on foot, cycling, etc. All these non-MTR/buses commute modes are harder to find in “newer” new towns.

The travel pattern in Tsuen Wan is versatile — besides MTR and bus, one-third of the commuters choose other modes to go to the workplace.

Compared to the latest North Lantau new town, only around 15% of the commuters use neither MTR nor bus as a major commute transport. Public Light Bus could never be found in Lantau until a minibus route travelling between Tung Chung and Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge started operation in 2018. To be honest, I am more interested in what the actual commute patterns of that 0.1% of public light bus commuters living in Tung Chung.

The % of commuters go to their workplace by foot is another interesting point of investigation in terms of same-district commuting and the level of job-housing balance.

Hiatus

The transit-oriented development (TOD) model of Hong Kong is frequently cited as a successful case for European and American cities to follow. While TOD is indeed a building block for the development of new towns, which transit are we talking about? Bus, MTR, or other types of transportations?

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