Transport market share to Hong Kong International Airport

There are many different ways to reach Hong Kong’s international airport from anywhere in the city – but the cost, speed and level of comfort differ. So which one is more popular?

Planes, trains and automobiles

Airport Express train

The Airport Express train operated by the MTR is the fastest way to get to Hong Kong and Kowloon and the most comfortable, with the ‘In-Town Check-In’ service allowing you to drop your bags at the railway station, and pick them up at your final destination airport.

Flight information display at Kowloon station

Unfortunately it isn’t a door to door service, but a complimentary shuttle bus operates between Hong Kong or Kowloon station and major hotels and railway interchanges.

As for the cost – it’s exactly HK$100 for a single journey. By comparison, a journey from Hong Kong to Tung Chung, less than one kilometre short of the airport and sharing the same line, is around HK$18. From the fare tables the most expensive ‘normal’ one I could find was Sheung Shui to Tung Chung for around HK$24 – pretty much one end of Hong Kong to another. The fares from one more station past Sheung Shui on the East Rail line (Lok Ma Chau or Lo Wu) doubles to around HK$50 – these are border crossings with China, so they must follow the airport ripoff rule.

Just goes to show how expensive rail journeys to airports are!

Onboard the Airport Express train

Express buses

Dedicated limited-stop bus routes operate from Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories to the airport, with special areas for bulky luggage being provided. For a one way fare of around HK$20 depending on which area you are traveling from, it is cheaper than the airport train, but about double the price of a ‘normal’ bus across the same distance.

Busy roads in Ma On Shan


Hong Kong’s airport is a long drive from the urban areas of Hong Kong and involves many toll roads, so I’m not sure why anyone would bother. If you did, the ride will cost you around HK$250 to HK$300.

Taxis and trams at Shau Kei Wan.


You have to spend a lot of money to buy and run a car in Hong Kong, so if you were going to drive to the airport, paying HK$22 an hour for parking probably won’t bother you.

'Caribbean Coast' apartment  complex at Tung Chung

Market share by transport mode

The 2006 paper ‘Analysis of Airport Access Mode Choice: A Case Study in Hong Kong‘ by Mei Ling Tam and Mei Lam Tam provides a great level of detail around the transport modes used to reach Hong Kong International Airport.

They collected their data in 2004 by surveying waiting air travellers:

Of the total 496 samples, 50 percent were male and 50 percent were female. Around 55 percent of the respondents were aged between 16 and 35. Hong Kong residents accounted for two-thirds of the samples, while the remaining one-third were visitors from various countries.

The majority (85 percent) of the respondents were travelling for non-business purposes, such as a vacation or visiting friends or relatives. The remaining 15 percent were business travellers.

A quarter of the respondents were air passengers taking long haul flights (i.e. air journey time more than 6 hours). It was noted that 10 percent of the respondents had no check-in baggage, while 55 percent had one check-in bag. On average, each respondent carried 1.3 pieces of check-in baggage.

With the following results:

In general, public modes (including franchised buses and Airport Express Line (AEL)) dominate HKIA ground access market. Franchised buses have a large proportion (47 percent) with AEL having 23 percent. The primary reason attracting air passengers to use the franchised buses is the lower travel cost. ‘Shortest time required’ is the main reason for those who used AEL.

Hong Kong Transport Department (TD) statistics show that only 5 percent of the population in Hong Kong owns a private car (TD, 2004). Owing to this comparatively low car ownership rate, the use of the private car as the ground access mode to the HKIA is limited, and only accounts for 7 percent of the total sample.

A greater proportion of business air passengers (41 percent) than non-business air passengers (20 percent) accessed the HKIA by AEL. This is because business air passengers have a greater awareness of time cost than non-business air passengers. Non-business air passengers are more sensitive to travel cost than business air passengers, and this resulted in a greater proportion (49 percent) travelling by franchised buses.

Another breakdown of mode share to the airport can also be found in a presentation titled ‘Hong Kong Airport Express Line – A Success Story‘ by MTR operations manager K Y Leung.

Airport Express performance in 2006

  • 9.6 million passengers carried (26,600/day)
  • 23% market share of the airport traffic
  • 1.94 million passengers used In-town check-in service

It also includes a graph of historical trends in mode share.

Hong Kong airport transport market share - 1999 to 2006

And an analysis of the challenges facing the airport rail link:

  • Fierce competition from buses
  • High staff set-up cost
  • High facility replacement cost

The reasoning behind a preference for bus over rail services can be found in this case study, including in the 2000 Transportation Research Board report ‘Improving Public Transportation Access to Large Airports‘:

In order to understand the motivation for mode choice – and to explore the attribute of directness of service — MTR managers undertook some market research. Of those riders on the direct bus routes, an expected 55 percent said that the lower fare was a reason for choosing the bus; importantly, 51 percent stated that directness of service (i.e., no need to transfer) was a reason for their choice of mode. Directness of service was considered a factor by only 18 percent of rail riders, presumably those with destinations convenient to the terminals.

They also quote a conclusion reached by one of the original architects of the Hong Kong Airport Express:

It is apparent that even with a good design and well-integrated railway service, the Airport Express does not have inherent advantages over more direct single mode bus travel. In other words, the speed advantage of rail versus single mode road competitors when traveling over distances of only up to 34 km [21 mi] do not result in significant enough time savings to compensate for the necessary transfer.

Some lessons for other cities there?


The 2006 paper ‘Analysis of Airport Access Mode Choice: A Case Study in Hong Kong‘ by Mei Ling Tam and Mei Lam Tam has plenty more analysis of the reasons why passengers choose a given transport mode to reach Hong Kong airport.

The 2000 report ‘Improving Public Transportation Access to Large Airports‘ by the Transportation Research Board expands upon this, covering many other examples from around the world.

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One Logo – Two Languages

For a company that operates in Hong Kong, where both Chinese and English are official languages, it is important to have a corporate brand that looks just as good in both. Here are two corporate logos that achieve this in an exceedingly clever way.

The first is for the ‘CLP Group’ – once known as ‘China Light and Power’. The central device of the logo is the – the Chinese character for ‘China’ – with is composed of the English characters of ‘C’ ‘L’ and ‘P’.

CLP Group logo

The other is for ‘Kowloon Motor Bus’, also known as ‘KMB’. The large ‘K’ device in the logo represents the ‘K’ of the English company name, while at the same time resembling – part of ‘九龍’, the Chinese name for Kowloon.

Kowloon Motor Bus logo

Both logos blew my mind when I first discovered their hidden meanings!

Further reading

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Laundry day in Hong Kong

I doesn’t matter where you live in Hong Kong, but finding somewhere to dry your laundry usually involves an open window.

You could be living in a 1960s apartment block.

Laundry day in Hong Kong

Or a more modern Housing Authority complex.

Typical Housing Authority apartment tower

Or even in a fancy complex with your own swimming pool.

Laundry day in Hong Kong

Whatever it is, just don’t hang your washing up on the neighbourhood fences!

No hanging up your washing here!

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Lost in translation while navigating the MTR

Navigating the Mass Transit Railway network is Hong Kong is pretty easy – the map is easy to read, the signage is in both Chinese and English, and the audio announcements are repeated in Cantonese, Mandarin and English. So how did my dad and I managed to get confused when getting from A to B?

MTR network map (2013)

We had just spent the day out sightseeing, and were on our way to meet my cousin for dinner at a restaurant in Causeway Bay, having arranged to meet outside a specific exit from the MTR station.

After changing to an Island Line train headed west, my dad said “we’ll jump out at [a name I had never head of]“. I had to rack my brain for quite a while, trying to think of a MTR station by that name, but got nowhere, so I asked him to point out the station on the map.

“Causeway Bay” was the station – which sounded nothing like the name “Tung Lo Wan” he had been saying a moment before.

The reason for the confusion is how locations in Hong Kong receive their English names – places with obvious English names (such as “Causeway Bay”) also have obviously Chinese names (in this case “銅鑼灣” which is transliterated as “Tung Lo Wan”) which sound different, while other places just use the transliterated Chinese name as their English one (for example, “Tsim Sha Tsui”) so they sound the same in both languages.

With my dad being a native Cantonese speaker he used the Chinese name, while I went for the English one, which in the case of Causeway Bay sound nothing alike!

Hong Kong tram on the move in Causeway Bay

A footnote on literal translations

Transliteration is a process where Chinese characters are turned into something pronounceable by non-Chinese speakers, while translation makes the ideas of the Chinese text understandable to outsiders.

When each character of “銅鑼灣” is translated literally, “Tung Lo Wan” (the Chinese name for Causeway Bay) ends up as “Copper Gong Bay”. A number of people have taking this to the extreme and produced an entire MTR network map where the station names are translated literally – ‘Lost in Mong Kok‘ did a version in 2011, as did blogger Justin Moe in 2014.

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The ‘secret’ Chinese restaurant menu

When westerners visit Chinese restaurants, the idea of a ‘secret’ menu that only Chinese people get is a common one – and on my last visit to Hong Kong I finally encountered one, on the popular tourist island of Cheung Chau.

Sampans moored to the seawall at Cheung Chau

After wandering along the waterfront, we chose one of the many restaurants and sat down at our table. My Dad and my extended family all took the Chinese menus, while myself and the rest of my family from Australia took the English version.

Seafood restaurants lining the waterfront in Cheung Chau

What ensued was what normally happens my family goes out to eat at Chinese restaurant back in Australia – my Dad points out something on the Chinese menu, the rest of us can’t find it on the English menu, so I ask him to point it out, we finally find it, and then repeat for every other dish. However this time there was a difference – the two menus had different prices on them!

When it finally came time to order, my Dad ended up having the following discussion with the waiter – in Cantonese of course:

  • Dad: So we’ll have dishes [X], [Y] and [Z].
  • Waiter: Okay then.
  • Dad: And by the way, I noticed that the prices on the English menu were higher.
  • Waiter: Ah, yes, the servings for the English menu are bigger, that’s why they’re different.
  • Dad: I don’t care what size they are, just don’t charge me the higher price!
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