Over 60% of workers who live in “self-contained” communities travel back and forth for work every day; decentralising job opportunities is the way to go
Reported by Caroline Kwok, Holly Chik and Michelle Ng
Gloria Liu is one of the 218,000 some new town residents who commute to schools outside where they live every day.
The 21-year-old student at the University of Hong Kong has been living in Ma On Shan since she was born. She has never studied in the new town where she has lived since kindergarten.
According to Google Maps, the commute time from Ma On Shan to HKU can take up to 1 hour 35 minutes, 5 minutes longer than the flight time from Hong Kong to Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
During peak hour, it takes the long-time new town resident 90 to 120 minutes to travel to the university.
According to MTR’s train trip planner, it takes about 55 minutes to travel from Man On Shan Station to HKU station with four interchanges.
If Ms. Liu opts to work outside of the new town after she graduates, she will join the other 2.2 million Hongkongers who commute to work across districts every day, which is equivalent to about 60% of Hong Kong’s working population. Half of these 2.2 million people live in new towns.
Since 1973, the Hong Kong government has been developing new towns with an aim “to provide a balanced and self-contained community as far as possible in terms of the provision of infrastructure and community facilities.”
According to the Civil Engineering and Development Department, there are 12 new towns in Hong Kong: Tuen Mun, Sha Tin, Tseung Kwan O, Kwai Chung, Tsuen Wan, Tin Shui Wai, Tai Po, Fanling/ Sheung Shui, Ma On Shan, Tsing Yi, Yuen Long and North Lantau.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s 2018 policy also showed this long-established tradition of trying to move people, jobs and schools to remote locations such as the Kwu Tung North and Fanling North New Development Areas and artificial islands in the “Lantau Tomorrow” proposal.
The Planning Department also said in an email reply that these new development areas “are in various stages of development and will constitute a new wave of smart and livable new town development.”
However, government statistics showed its vision for providing “an organised, efficient and desirable place for the community to live and work in” by building new towns failed. Most new town residents do not work or study in the same area where they live.
According to the 2016 Population By-census, all 12 new towns in the city have at least 55% of its population work outside areas where they live and only less than 22%, on average, of its population work in the same district.
The same phenomenon is not as fierce with students living in new towns. On average, over half of the students study in the same district where they live, with Ma On Shan and Tsing Yi being the exceptions.
The high percentage of the cross-district working phenomenon is caused by over centralised job opportunities in Hong Kong, explained Loong Tsz-wai, Senior Community Relations Manager of Clean Air Network.
“The metropolis areas in Hong Kong are providing about 75% of job opportunities which is very unsatisfactory. The simplest [way to solve the problem] is to diversify workplaces and it has to start with the government,” he added.
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Mr. Loong also said another cause for over-centralised job opportunities is that the government focuses too much on creating jobs from planning.
“A lot of the times, jobs do not come from planning. It’s from organic development. Job types from organic development are also more diversified,” he said. “What the government needs to do is to preserve this kind of organic development with policies by spotting the latest employment trends.”
Mr. Loong said working across districts is a normal phenomenon to a certain extent but the problem with cross-district working is that it’s too much of a one-way flow.
“Everybody is commuting to work from north to south in the morning and everybody is going home from south to north. That’s the problem,” Mr. Loong said.
On October 16, four major lines of the MTR, including Tsuen Wan Line, Island Line, Kwun Tong Line and Tseung Kwan O Line had the worse-ever six-hour-long breakdown.
On 16 October, 2018 morning, Hong Kong’s major public transport system, the MTR, experienced an unprecedented six-hour service breakdown during rush hours due to signal failure.
Even when commuters opt for other means of transportation, the long queues outside bus stations and taxi stops took hours to digest.
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In Ma On Shan, where nearly 100,000 students and workers travel daily to places outside the new town to study and work, District Councillor Lee Chi Wing said the main problem for their community is the lack of public transport.
“[There are] not enough car parks and traffic jam happened daily, and [there are] not enough bus and minibus services to other districts,” Mr. Lee added.
He thinks the government should start to develop commercial zones and change the usage of industrial buildings in Fo Tan and Shek Mun to provide residents with more job opportunities.
Yet long travelling time has never deterred Ms. Liu’s family from living in Ma On Shan.
Compared to travelling time, methods of transportation is more important, she said. For instance, whether both buses and trains are available.
“Still, I will consider the accessibility to major districts such as Mong Kok and Central,” Ms. Liu added.
“We moved once only and it’s within Ma On Shan. We stayed in the same area because of the nature and well-planned cities like swimming pool, park and library,” Ms. Liu explained. “Good town planning and living facilities are definitely a bonus [for] a family.”
Nevertheless, some new town residents find it convenient to live in new towns despite having to work outside their communities because they are close to major hubs in the city.
Winnie Choi, who has been living in the Tseung Kwan O new town for more than three years, said she moved into the new town because the location is close to her workplace in Kwun Tong and her daughters’ school.
“The time needed to go to work is not long (about 25 minutes), so it’s not inconvenient for me,” she said.
A North Lantau new town resident who works in the Hong Kong International Airport, which is about 45 minutes away, also feels the same.
“The airport is close to my dwelling. It is convenient to go to work,” said Yuki Choi, who has lived in the new town for 14 years.
But she has also travelled far for school. She has studied at the Hong Kong Design Institute in Tiu Keng Leng which would take her up to 90 minutes to two hours to get to from Tung Chung.
Yeung Hiu Tung, Ms. Liu’s mother, who works in Sha Tin which is 30 minutes away from her residence, recognises the benefit she has when her workplace is close to home.
Travelling time can be saved; we can rest more or work overtime more and still come home early, Ms. Yeung said.
“I think I am lucky because not everyone can work and live closely as I do,” she said.
Working population by New Town, Place of Work, Year and Sex (By-Census, 2016)
Persons Attending Full-time Courses in Educational Institutions in Hong Kong by New town, Place of Study and Year (By-Census, 2016)