17 April 2019
On track for the next chapter
For more than a century, Hong Kong’s beloved “ding ding” trams have ambled through the city streets at a leisurely pace.
Despite Hong Kong having one of the best-regarded metro rail networks in the world, more than 200,000 passengers a day – commuters and tourists alike – still opt to travel by tram. A trip costs the smallest of loose change (just HK$2.60), regardless of distance travelled – proof that, in an era of high-speed rail and supersonic aircraft, arriving in record time may not be the point of a journey.
In 2019, Hong Kong Tramways celebrates 115 years of continuous service, its 164 trams making up the largest double-decker fleet in the world.
Cyril Aubin, Tramways’ Managing Director, said people “love the trams” because of four key value propositions.
“Our trams are unique,” he said. “They are useful, timeless, and colourful, and because of the advertising [which forms their distinctive livery] all trams are different. All these factors make our trams unique and beloved by Hong Kong people, as well as visitors.”
Mr Aubin estimates that 15% to 20% of passengers every day are tourists. “It is a must-do when you come to Hong Kong,” he said.
Historical context, modern approach
This “must-do” factor and the trams’ overall appeal have opened up new revenue streams that help keep Tramways’ business relevant and viable.
Despite their heritage appearance, today’s trams are thoroughly modern. A new fleet of aluminium-bodied trams that are lighter, faster and longer-lasting – built entirely by hand, using homespun techniques – have been rolling into service since 2012. The interiors are modern and fitted with real-time positioning technology to update passengers on anticipated arrival times.
In 2016, Tramways launched its first tourist venture, the TramOramic Tour. Passengers board an open-topped, renovated 1920s’ tram for a sightseeing journey through the city, with audio storytelling of the local history.
“There was an expectation that Hong Kong should have more attractions linked to the trams, and we wanted to satisfy that need,” Mr Aubin said.
Facing competition from the Mass Transit Railway, Tramways also innovated to diversify its revenue streams by launching two party trams. These vintage open-top tramcars are available for private rental and are proving a successful venue for events such as birthdays, wedding anniversaries and corporate functions. Catering is offered to entertain guests as they absorb 360-degree views of Hong Kong’s exhilarating nightlife.
Circus Tram launch
In 2018, Tramways took a new turn in its business development. “We decided to look for start-ups that could help us to achieve some new things,” Mr Aubin said. This led to a partnership with Circus Group, a local creative agency, and the launch of the Circus Tram, a new kind of mobile social club in the city.
Circus Group organises cultural programmes and performances throughout the year, inviting guest curators to present a mix of topics and interests. It also hosts non-profit educational rides to promote the tram system’s heritage.
The Circus Tram is a bespoke design, brought to life by a team of Hong Kong emerging designers, architects, artists and curators, engineers, technicians and craftsmen. Many features are novel and tailored, including an articulated interior and room experience, air-conditioned cabins, designer furniture and upholstery, and premium lighting and sound systems. Three thematic rooms can accommodate 36 guests, with restroom facilities on board.
With its creative and high-quality design, “this tram offers a premium venue and a first-of-its kind ride to experience and enjoy Hong Kong – the city, its culture, gastronomy and talents,” Mr Aubin said.
“Circus Tram is a major initiative contributing to maintain the vibrancy of the city life and enhance Hong Kong’s attractiveness,” he said. “This new business also aims to sustain our affordable-rate model on passenger trams.
“Thanks to the effort from Tramways’ engineers, technicians and craftsmen, as well as the Circus Group team, this co-created premium party tram serves to preserve our tram heritage while developing its evolving connection with our city and modern culture.”
Alvin Yip, Circus co-founder, said the partnership with Tramways is an ideal fit for the group’s business philosophy.
“Circus is a Hong Kong creative agency specialising in cultural, social and urban innovations,” he said. “Regenerating a century-old urban system is a perfect demonstration of our capability to inject new energy and new value through creativity and design.”
Circus founders have been involved in many other Hong Kong projects previously, including the West Kowloon Cultural District, Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage & Arts (the former Central Police Station compound), PMQ and Oil Street Art Space.
Circus Tram runs as a patronage and membership model, with the aim of building “a society of tram lovers and Hong Kong culture lovers,” Mr Yip said.
“So far, we have had many personal celebrations on the tram, and interestingly, a good number of business receptions, brand events, and even board meetings. This is the most unique experience to either introduce Hong Kong or get inspired in business discussion.”
Mr Aubin hopes that Circus Tram may be the start of a new chapter in Hong Kong Tramways’ history. “If successful, we would wish to continue looking at new partnership opportunities,” he said.
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council celebrates the city’s design culture with exhibitions such as DesignInspire, which runs on 5-7 December in 2019.