The Mass Transit Railway is the name for Hong Kong’s rail system comprising underground, overland and light rail (slower tram-style) services. Universally known as the ‘MTR’, it is clean, fast and safe and transports around four million people daily.
Though it costs slightly more than bus travel, the MTR is the quickest way to get to most destinations in Hong Kong.
There are 84 stations on nine underground and overland lines, and a Light Rail network that covers the northwest New Territories. Smoking, eating and drinking are not permitted in MTR stations or on the trains, and violators are subject to a fine of HK$5000.
Departures Trains run every two to 14 minutes from around 6am to sometime between midnight and 1am.
Exits MTR exit signs use an alphanumerical system and there can be as many as a dozen to choose from. You may find yourself studying the exit table from time to time and scratching your head. There are maps of the local area at each exit.
Fares Tickets cost HK$8 to HK$35, but trips to stations bordering mainland China (Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau) can cost up to HK$60. Children aged between three and 11 years and seniors over 65 pay half-fare. Ticket machines accept notes and coins and dispense change.
Tickets Once you’ve passed through the turnstile to begin a journey you have 90 minutes to complete it before the ticket becomes invalid. If you have underpaid (by mistake or otherwise), you can make up the difference at an MTR service counter next to the turnstile.
Peak hours If possible, it’s best to avoid the rush hours: 7.30am to 9.30am and 5pm to 7pm weekdays.
The MTR’s Light Rail system is rather like a modern, air-conditioned version of the trams in Hong Kong, but it’s much faster. It runs in the northwest New Territories.
Departures Operates from about 5.30am to between 12.15am and 1am. Trams run every four to 12 minutes, depending on the line and time of day.
Fares HK$5.5 to HK$8, depending on the number of zones (from one to five) travelled; children and seniors over 65 pay from HK$3 to HK$4.
Tickets You can buy single-journey tickets from vending machines on the platforms. There are no gates or turnstiles and customers are trusted to validate their ticket or Octopus card when they board and exit.
Hong Kong’s MTR stations are colour-coded and colourfully storied.
Ancient superstition Traditional Chinese are apprehensive about digging activities because spirits are believed to reside underground. When the MTR was commissioning its construction in the 1970s, many local companies refused to bid. Like other high-risk industries in Hong Kong, construction has an informal code of ethics based on superstition.
Calligraphy Platforms on the Island Line, which tend to be less spacious, show the station names in ancient Chinese script. The graceful calligraphy is supposed to have a soothing effect on waiting passengers.
Haunted? Ghost stories about the MTR abound. A woman in a red dress is said to have leapt onto the tracks in Yau Ma Tei, but no corpse could be found. There are tales of children playing in the tunnel between Lai King and Mei Foo, vanishing just when the train hits them; and a victim of an industrial accident in white overalls, dangling his legs from a swing made from a high-pressure electric cable between Choi Hung and Kowloon Bay. Staff lit incense, offered apologies, and he was never seen again.
Platform design Colour-coding adds personality to drab underground environments and enables passengers on crowded trains to quickly locate themselves. The most chromatically interesting stations are on the Kwun Tong Line. Kowloon Tong is light blue – ‘Tong’ means ‘pool’. Wong Tai Sin takes ‘wong’ or ‘yellow’. Diamond Hill is charcoal flecked with silver. Navy with rainbow stripes stands for Choi Hung (‘rainbow’). Lai Chi Kok on the Tsuen Wan Line is orange-red because that’s the colour of a ripe lychee (‘lai chi’). Interchange stations, Central and Mong Kok, sport eye-catching red.
Minibuses are vans with no more than 16 seats. They come in two varieties: red and green.
Red minibuses (HK$7 to HK$40) Cream-coloured with a red roof or stripe, they pick up and discharge passengers wherever they are hailed or asked to stop along fixed routes. The destination and price are displayed on a card propped up on the windscreen, but these are often only written in Chinese. You usually hand the driver the fare when you get off, and change is given. You can use your Octopus card on certain routes.
Green minibuses (HK$3 to HK$24) Cream-coloured with a green roof or stripe; they make designated stops. You must put the exact fare in the cash box when you get in or you can use your Octopus card. Two popular routes are the 6 (HK$6.40) from Hankow Rd in Tsim Sha Tsui to Tsim Sha Tsui East and Hung Hom station in Kowloon, and the 1 (HK$10) to Victoria Peak from next to Hong Kong station.
Octopus Card (www.octopuscards.com) A rechargeable smartcard valid on the MTR and most forms of public transport. It also allows you to make purchases at retail outlets across the territory (such as convenience stores and supermarkets). The card costs HK$150 (HK$70 for children and seniors), which includes a HK$50 refundable deposit and HK$100 worth of travel. Octopus fares are about 5% cheaper than ordinary fares on the MTR. You can buy one and recharge at any MTR station.
Airport Express Travel Pass (one way/return HK$250/350) As well as travel to/from the airport, it allows three consecutive days of unlimited travel on the MTR.
MTR Tourist Day Pass (adult/child 3-11yr HK$65/35) Valid on the MTR for 24 hours after the first use.
Tourist Cross-Boundary Travel Pass (1/2 consecutive days HK$85/120) Allows unlimited travel on the MTR and two single journeys to/from Lo Wu or Lok Ma Chau stations.