Hong Kong double decker buses in Australia

How is this for an unusual sight – a Kowloon Motor Bus double decker driving along the shores of Sydney Harbour! The story of how this bus, along with two more from Hong Kong, ended up in Australia is thanks to the efforts of bus enthusiasts.


Photo via the Bus & Coach Preservation Society of NSW

Who are bus fans anyway?

Hong Kong is full of bus enthusiasts.

Mr. Chan, an accountant, is one of Hong Kong’s thousands of bus fans, ranging from young students to retirees, who are enthralled by the city’s some 6,000 buses. They linger by bus depots and lurk near highway ramps, angling for the best shots. They form fan clubs, eagerly swap the latest gossip about changes in bus models and film their own rides, which they share online with anyone who wants to follow along (spoiler alert: they aren’t always scintillating).

Older non-air conditioned buses are a particular a favourite.

They may be hot, noisy and rough to ride on, but the rapidly vanishing non-air-conditioned bus is a Hong Kong icon that conjures nostalgic memories of a bygone era.

That is why transport enthusiasts are urging the government to help preserve some of the historic rattletraps before they are gone from the city forever.

With some enthusiasts have even gone so far to purchase their own retired bus.

When it comes to pastimes, Hongkongers run to the usual suspects: karaoke, video games, television and football. They also have their share of unusual ones.

Tony Ng Cheuk-ho, 20, falls into the second category. Every weekend, his hobby takes him to a Tin Shui Wai car park and a rendezvous with his pride and joy: a big yellow double-decker bus. He washes it, drives it and admires it.

‘The bus has its own life,’ Ng says. ‘Sometimes it’s grumpy. Sometimes when I drive it to the other side to wash it, it’s very happy and moves smoothly.’ Whatever its ‘mood’, he treats his bus as a friend.

His interest may sound weird, but he’s not alone. There are about 15 private bus owners in Hong Kong, according to 22-year-old salesman Eddie Wong King-him, who owns an ex-China Motor Bus.

So how did the buses end up in Australia?

The first ex-Hong Kong buses to arrive in Australia were imported for use on open top tourist services, but the plan fell through, with a local bus enthusiast snapping one up.

1981 MCW Metrobus MkII CMB ML1, registration CM8935

After ML1 (CM8935) retired from NWFB, it was purchased by City Sightseeing with ML2 and dozens of other MLs, and was shipped to Australia as part of the local tour bus fleet. The company originally arranged ML1 to travel on the Gold Coast and Brisbane tour bus routes, but the plan was eventually cancelled.

In 2005, Australian bus fans with BL66 and ME30 purchased ML1 from CitySightseeing and repaired it on a large scale. Fortunately, the company did not replace the engine, open the top, and refit the stairs, and the original CMB seats and high-quality paintwork removed from the ML2 made the entire bus a new look. It was also very similar to the original bus. Proximity is a very high quality repair.

The “new car” was carefully cared for by the owners and joined with the former KMB BL66, also from Hong Kong, to participate in many local activities in Australia and attract the attention of many passers-by.

A second bus was purchased in Hong Kong from the scrap yard by an Australian bus fan.

1985 Leyland Olympian KMB BL66, registration DE3271

After being retired, the BL66 was purchased at the scrap yard. The current owner purchased the container in time and was initially parked at the Shangcun scrap yard and then moved to a parking lot in Hangwei Village, Tin Shui Wai for many years.

Since the owner is an Australian bus fan and does not live in Hong Kong for a long time, the ME30 purchased with the owner of the car can only wait for the owner to get to Hong Kong to get a chance to go out. After waiting about seven years in Hong Kong, the owner finally returned the two vehicles to Australia in March 2009 and repaired the two vehicles.

Along with a third bus.

1985 Mercedes-Benz O305 / Alexander KMB ME30, registration DG5344

Just completed the BL66 article, it is better to take the opportunity to complete the ME30 story purchased by the same owner. ME30 joined KMB in September 1985 and retired in November 2002.

After being parked and waiting at various locations in Hong Kong for a period of seven years, the ME30 and BL66 finally started their new page in March 2009 – transported by container ship to Australia.

The owner repaired the ME30, successfully issued the license, and participated in local activities in Australia.

One Australian group dedicated to the preservation of buses is the Bus & Coach Preservation Society of NSW, with members taking their historic buses out on the road for special events.

They draw the attention of crowds, as well as people back in Hong Kong, with newspaper Apple Daily running this piece in 2015 on their outing.

A retired KMB double-decker bus, preserved in Australia, attended local public events and the photographs were circulated on the Internet. Hong Kong people appreciate photos Aftertaste This bus, known as the “Car Emperor,” was a sigh in Hong Kong on the roads of Hong Kong. It was a sigh for Hong Kong to lose these historical artifacts.

Some more photos

The trio of ex-Hong Kong buses ready to run the 2018 Australia Day vintage bus service.

Bus ME30 alongside a similar vintage Sydney double decker bus.

Buses ME30 and ML1 out in the Australian countryside.

The trio of buses in the sheds at the Sydney Bus Museum.

Bus ME30 beside Sydney Harbour.

Bus ME30 departs the Sydney Opera House.

ML1 is passed by a modern Sydney double decker bus.

And some videos

Here we see KMB bus BL66 being loaded onto a ro-ro cargo ship bound for Australia.

And KMB bus ME30 being parked aboard the ship.

And finally, the trio of ex-Hong Kong buses in action in Sydney.

And another visitor from Hong Kong

In early 2008 another Hong Kong double decker bus paid a visit to Australia – this time brand new Dennis Enviro500 as a demonstrator – New World First Bus #5504.

New World First Bus ordered 18 Enviro500 buses with Euro IV engine in early 2007. 17 buses entered service in early/mid-2008, another one (fleet number 5504) was shipped to Australia in March 2008, after body assembly, for demonstration in several cities between April and May 2008, it finally entered service in June 2008.

Here it is crossing over the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

And passing the preserved China Motor Bus ML1.

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Trolleybus trials in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is known for streets full of air conditioned double decker buses, spewing diesel exhaust onto the crowded streets. But back in the 2000s bus operator Citybus tested something a lot cleaner – electrically powered trolleybuses.


TVB news report, June 2001

Trolleybuses existed before diesel powered buses, and are quite simple – they draw power from overhead wires (generally suspended from roadside posts) using spring-loaded trolley poles to power their electric motor. Unlike trams, they don’t need tracks and are able to manoeuvre around stopped vehicles.

GAKEI.com has a short summary of the trial:

Citybus first announced in March 1999 that they would invest HK$5 million to conduct a trolleybus trial, to study its feasibility for Hong Kong.

The trial involves two main elements: (1) the construction of a test track with an overhead wire network at the Citybus Wong Chuk Hang depot; (2) the conversion of a regular diesel bus into the world’s first double-deck air-conditioned trolleybus.

The trolleybus is converted from 701 (GD 1492), a 10.6m Dennis Dragon with a Duple Metsec body assembled by Caetano of Portugal. The roof structure had to be strengthened to take the extra load from the boom equipment and the brake resistors. As much as possible of the original bus had been retained.

But a government study found significant challenges to be resolved before their introduction:

Trolleybuses would be technically and operationally feasible in most circumstances in Hong Kong, but the feasibility of their operation in busy urban areas and in tunnels has yet to be established. There are important technical and operational issues to be resolved for trolleybus operation in these areas, in particular –

(i) trolley vehicles: the preferred vehicle type for Hong Kong is an air-conditioned, low-floor double-deck trolleybus. This new vehicle type would need to be designed. For manufacturers to be sufficiently interested to develop a new vehicle type, a minimum order of about 40-50 buses would be necessary;

(ii) vertical clearance: the recommended normal height for trolley wires is 6 metres. This exceeds the vertical clearance of many over-bridges constructed in accordance with Government standard clearance of 5.1 metres. There is a possible need for speed restrictions under this clearance in order to reduce the risk of dewirements. As for temporary structures and overbridges which provide Government standard clearance of 4.7 metres, the operation of double-deck trolleybuses would not be possible. Measures like temporary diversion, use of auxiliary engines, or temporary substitution by diesel buses would be required and these measures could be difficult and costly;

(iii) traffic impact: the constraint that trolleybuses could operate only within the reach of their trolley booms from the trolley wires, their inability to overtake one another without passing loops, and the possibility of dewirement would contribute to potential traffic delays especially in congested urban corridors;

(iv) depot location: trolleybus depots should be as close to the trolleybus network as possible to avoid the stringing of wires with no revenue-earning operation, thereby adding to the cost;

(v) hanging signs: repair or construction work on hanging signs directly above trolleybus wires (which, unlike tram wires, have both positive and negative overhead wires) would be dangerous. Legislation for relocating or removing such signs and compensation of owners would have to be considered;

(vi) fire-fighting: solutions have to be developed to prevent the trolley wires and traction poles from blocking the access of aerial ladders; and

(vii) infrastructure support: the planting of traction poles and underground feeder cables in busy urban areas could cause problems and solutions to them could be costly and time-consuming.

No single issue would stand in the way of trolleybus operation. However taken together they present important risks which would be greatest if trolleybuses were to be introduced in busy urban areas.

After the initial trials in 2001 little happened, an exception being a public display in 2003. The trolleybus itself was later stripped for parts, then scrapped in 2014.

Another video

Trolleybus at the Wong Chuk Hang test track.

Further reading

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Hong Kong – a temporary city?

While wandering artound the streets of Yau Ma Tei, I came across a serious looking concrete building with a curious looking sign – ‘Shanghai Street Temporary Refuse Collection Point’. So why is a ‘temporary’ building so permanent looking?

'Shanghai Street Temporary Refuse Collection Point' - it looks quite permanent to me

Turns out this isn’t the only ‘temporary’ government facility in Hong Kong. There is the Woosung Street Temporary Cooked Food Hawker Bazaar around the corner.

Woosung Street Temporary Cooked Food Hawker Bazaar (photo by Mcwimgpos, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Mcwimgpos, via Wikimedia Commons

The ‘Wai Lok Street Temporary Soccer Pitch’ in Sai Tso Wan.

Wai Lok Street Temporary Soccer Pitch (photo by Exploringlife, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Exploringlife, via Wikimedia Commons

The ‘Kennedy Town Temporary Recreation Ground‘ on Hong KOng Island.

Kennedy Town Temporary Recreation Ground (photo by Exploringlife, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Exploringlife, via Wikimedia Commons

‘Moreton Terrace Temporary Playground’ in Causeway Bay.

Moreton Terrace Temporary Playground (photo by Ceeseven, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Ceeseven, via Wikimedia Commons

The ‘Wan Chai Temporary Promenade‘ on Victoria Harbour.

Wan Chai Temporary Promenade (photo by WiNG, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by WiNG, via Wikimedia Commons

And ‘David Lane Temporary Public Toilet‘ in Sai Ying Pun.

David Lane Temporary Public Toilet (photo by Martin Tai Hing, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Martin Tai Hing, via Wikimedia Commons

I also found references to the North District Temporary Wholesale Market for Agricultural Products in Fanling, the Cheung Sha Wan Temporary Wholesale Poultry Market in Kowloon, the Yen Chow Street Temporary Hawker Bazaar in Sham Shui Po, and the Bowen Road Temporary Playground in Mid-levels.

So why do ‘temporary’ structures last so long?

There is the ‘Haiphong Road Temporary Market’ in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Haiphong Road Temporary Market (photo by Hpalsgm, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Hpalsgm, via Wikimedia Commons

South China Morning Post subsidiary ‘HK Magazine’ explained why Hasn’t the Haiphong Road Temporary Market Been There Forever?:

Dear Mr. Know-It-All,
What’s going on with the Haiphong Road Temporary Market? I walk past it all the time in Tsim Sha Tsui and it looks like it’s been there forever. – Market Mark

In Hong Kong terms, it pretty much has been there forever.

Haiphong Road is one of the few places in Hong Kong not named for a Chinese or British place or person. It actually takes its name from the northern Vietnamese port of Hai Phong, which once had close commercial ties to the area. Originally called Elgin Road, the avenue was renamed in 1909 to prevent confusion with the street in SoHo. (Other name changes in TST at the same time included Chater Street becoming Peking Road, Des Voeux Road turning into Chatham Road, and Robinson Road switching to Nathan Road).

As for the Haiphong Road Temporary Market—it’s even less temporary than you might have thought. It was created in 1978 to house hawkers displaced by the redevelopment of Canton Road, making it the oldest temporary market in the city.

The hawkers were squeezed into the awkward triangular space created by the construction of the Kowloon Park Drive flyover, and asked to wait it out until more suitable accommodation could be found. But a purpose-built building never appeared and the site is difficult to develop, thanks to the flyover overhead. And so the market continued and continues to this day, still temporary 37 years after it was set up.

Despite its ad-hoc nature, the Haiphong Road market is as permanent a part of Tsim Sha Tsui life as Chungking Mansions itself.

The ‘Tung Chau Street Temporary Market‘ in Sham Shui Po has a similar story.


“Apple Daily” picture

Which Apply Daily explains in a piece titled Market Story – On Borrowed Space:

According to the government’s market policy, the existence of temporary markets was originally built to rehouse hawker stalls on the street. The land allocation is temporary. These temporary markets will be dismantled or become permanent facilities according to the population structure and needs of the community.

The ‘Cadagan Street Temporary Garden’ in Sai Wan has another interesting story.

Cadagan Street Temporary Garden (photo by Callyriam Wong, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Callyriam Wong, via Wikimedia Commons

Built on the site of a rubbish incinerator and abattoir before turned into a park, local residents fighting to save the space from redevelopment.

Residents have been fighting against the demolition of the park, saying they will lose a vital green space.

The government announced the park’s demolition as part of redevelopment plans for Kennedy Town west in a bid to tackle the housing shortage. The site is expected to host more than 600 private flats.

Before the garden was constructed, the area was the site of an incinerator – which ceased operation in March 1993 – and an abattoir which closed in 1999. The government claims the waste produced by those facilities has contaminated the soil and requires it to be excavated and replaced, which would take seven years.

Residents worry excavation work will release contaminants into the air. They believe it would be better to leave the park in-situ to avoid such a risk, and leave residents with access to rare recreational space.

While the story of the ‘Wuhu Street Temporary Playground’ in Ho Man Tin shows that even temporary spaces can be temporarily closed.

Wuhu Street Temporary Playground (photo by Wendy Lam Kit Yee, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo by Wendy Lam Kit Yee, via Wikimedia Commons

From the Leisure and Cultural Services Department:

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department announced today (March 22) that the Wuhu Street Temporary Playground will be closed from March 26, 2012, to May 22, 2015, for the construction of the Kwun Tong Line Extension project by MTR Corporation Limited.

But the last word comes from the Hong Kong Government and the way they manage land.

Generally speaking, sites are disposed through land grant for permanent development by the private sector (e.g. private housing, private office, industrial, utilities, etc.), and through Government Land Allocations for permanent development by government departments (e.g. infrastructure, schools, hospitals, welfare facilities, parks and leisure facilities, libraries, sports facilities, etc.)

There are instances where sites in development zones are ready for development, but the permanent developments according to planning are not yet ready for immediate implementation (e.g. due to service plan, demand, funding, or other reasons), or sites are kept as reserve for future uses (mainly for G/IC uses).

The Government would normally endeavour to put such available sites “in transition” into temporary or short-term gainful uses as far as possible, so as to avoid leaving the sites idle and make the best use of available land resource.

A common temporary usage of government land is open space – in 2017 a total of 748 allocations existed, covering a total area of about 76 hectares.

When providing these leisure facilities, the Government would consider a range of factors such as the area and duration of the land available for development, the surrounding environment, the needs of the residents in the district concerned as well as the facilities in nearby venues, etc., and consult the District Councils on the proposed design and facilities to be provided. As regards the temporary leisure facilities under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, they are mainly small gardens, sitting-out areas and playgrounds. In respect of the management arrangements, they are managed in a similar way as other open spaces managed by the department.

Further reading

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Gate numbering at Hong Kong International Airport

Gate numbers at airports is something taken as a given by passengers – you get told which one your flight is leaving from, and you make sure you get there on time! However the other day I was taking a look at a map of Hong Kong International Airport, and came to an interesting discovery – gate numbering doesn’t have to be sequential or logical.

Looking north past the gates at the Midfield Concourse

What gates do exist?

The Wikipedia page for Hong Kong International Airport has this to say about the gates:

The airport has a total of 90 boarding gates – 78 jet bridge gates (1–4, 15–36, 40–50, 60–71, 201–219, 501–510) and 12 virtual gates (228–230, 511–513, 520–525) which are used as assembly points for passengers, who are then ferried to the aircraft by apron buses.

So why are the gate numbers non sequential, and jump all the way from 1 to 500? The airport map has part of the answer.

Gates 1 through 80 are located in the main terminal building.

Overview of Hong Kong International Airport

Gates in the 2xx range are in the Midfield Concourse, accessed by the automated people mover system.

Midfield Concourse at Hong Kong International Airport now open for use

And gates in the 5xx range are located in the North Satellite Concourse, accessed by shuttle bus from the main terminal.

Looking past the North Satellite Concourse to the main concourse and air traffic control tower

But what about the gaps in the 1-80 range for the main terminal building?

Someone posed this question on Wikipedia back in 2006.

Since the Airport’s opening in 1998, the signs in the departure area have read “Gates 1-80”.

However, I found that there are a lot of gates that “didn’t exist”.

Those gates were Gates 9, 14, 20, 37-39, 51-59 and 72-80.

The last time I landed in Hong Kong, I noticed that Gate 20 has been added.

What has happened to all the others? I would really be interested to know.

Kylohk 14:51, 15 July 2006 (UTC)

As did someone else in 2017.

Should there be something to explain where gates 71-80 are? Because it seems that those gates do not exist, despite signs saying gates “33-80”

TheCoffeeAddict 04:08, 9 March 2017 (UTC)

So where did the gates go?

Gate 20 is an oddity – as late as July 2005 the gate didn’t appear on airport maps.

But gates 5 through 8 can be seen, along with gates 10 through 13 – none of which exist today.

Confused?

Transfer bus station at the North Satellite Concourse at Hong Kong Airport

Thankfully there is a source of truth to consult – the airport aircraft parking / docking chart produced for the use of pilots.

Bay numbers directly correspond to gate numbers, with the following terminal adjacent parking spaces marked:

  • Bays E1 – E4: north concourse
  • Bays E15 – E19: south concourse
  • Bay N20: central concourse
  • Bays N22 – N34 (even): north side, central concourse
  • Bays S23 – S35 (odd): south side, central concourse
  • Bays W40 – W50 (even): north side, south west concourse
  • Bays S41 – S49 (odd): south side, south west concourse
  • Bays N36 – N70 (even): north side, north west pier
  • Bays W61 – W71 (odd): south side, north west pier
  • Bays D201 – D219: Midfield Concourse
  • Bays N501 – N510: North Satellite Concourse

So how to explain the gates that don’t appear?

Gates: 5 – 8 and 10 – 13 were once virtual gates used by shuttle bus passengers – since renumbered as 511 – 513 and 520 – 525 with one gate being shuffled from the ‘north’ to the ‘south’ concourse.

Gate 9 and 14 didn’t fit into the ’10 gates on the north and south concourse’ pattern.

Gate 20: added to the airport after completion, by squeezing in an extra parking bay between gates 15 and 22.

Gates 37 – 39 were omitted so that the south west concourse numbering could start at 40.

Gates 51 – 59 were omitted so that the north west concourse numbering could start at 60.

Gates 72 – 80 were omitted so that signage in the main terminal would read a nice round ‘gates 1 – 80’.

Gates 2xx were numbered in their own group due to their remote location via the automated people mover.

Gates 5xx received even higher numbers due to the long shuttle bus ride required to access them.

Directional signage to the gates, airline transfer desks and ferries

Clear as mud?

One final oddity

Before the opening of the Midfield Concourse, passengers to gates 33 – 80 were directed to use the automated people mover instead of walking.

'Next train in 1 minute' - trains run about every 2 to 3 minutes

But today it has been changed to gates 40 – 80 and 201 – 230.

Departing passengers board a westbound train at Terminal 1

Presumably directing four gates of passengers to walk instead taking the automated people mover was to free up capacity for passengers headed to the Midfield Concourse, who don’t have the same option.

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Bridging a taxiway at Hong Kong Airport

In 2017 the Hong Kong Airport Authority announced an interesting project – a bridge so tall that double decker A380 ‘super jumbo’ jets could pass under.

The South China Morning Post had this to say on the proposal.

Boarding a bus to catch a plane at Hong Kong International Airport could soon be a thing of the past with plans afoot to build a bridge across the airfield.

Currently, any passengers travelling on flights from an isolated terminal called the North Satellite Concourse, must be ferried to or from the main airport building by a shuttle bus.

The Airport Authority has invited bids to build a structure linking the two buildings. The tender contract was expected to be issued in the third quarter of 2017 and construction would take at least two years.

Airlines have welcomed the proposal, saying it would further improve the passenger experience at one of the world’s most highly rated airports.

Few details have been made public, though the bridge could cost at least HK$2 billion, based on previous creations and factoring inflation and higher construction costs locally.

With the Airport Technology website providing a few extra details.

Known as Sky Bridge, the new 28m-high and 200m-long footbridge will help reduce travelling time for the passengers and the need for using shuttle buses, while providing space for the accommodation of the largest A380 flights.

The current state

The North Satellite Concourse was completed in 2009 and marked the first major expansion of gate capacity at Hong Kong International Airport.

To ensure the same level of service for the growing number of passengers flying on smaller aircraft, the Airport Authority has invested over HK$1 billion in the construction of a new North Satellite Concourse (NSC). The new concourse, which will be soft-opened on 17 December, will ensure that Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) continues to meet its performance pledge of embarking and disembarking more than 90% of its passengers by air bridges.The NSC is designed to serve more than five million passengers a year at the initial stage.

Situated to the north of the Terminal 1 (T1), the NSC is a two-storey facility equipped with 10 frontal stands (gate numbers: 501 to 510) for narrow-bodied aircraft. Passengers using the new concourse depart as normal, completing their check-in, immigration and security procedures in either T1 or T2 before proceeding to a designated area at T1 to board a shuttle bus for the concourse. Waiting area of the concourse houses 10 retail and two catering outlets. Departing passengers may also take the shuttle to T1 at any time. Shuttle buses to and from the NSC will run every four minutes.

Passengers deplaning from an arriving flight at the facility will take a shuttle bus to T1 to clear customs and immigration, while transfer passengers will board a shuttle for their connecting flight at T1 or go to the NSC’s transfer area if their next flight departs from the same concourse.

The North Satellite Concourse is the standalone building visible in this overhead view of the airport.

Looking down on the southern remote stands at Hong Kong International Airport

It is mainly used by smaller single aisle jets that carry 100-200 passengers each.

Looking past the North Satellite Concourse to the main concourse and air traffic control tower

Surrounded on all sides by taxiways.

Looking across to the North Satellite Concourse

Shuttle buses are used to move passengers to and from the main terminal building.

Transfer bus linking the North Satellite Concourse to the main terminal

The buses departing from stations on the ground floor of each terminal.

Transfer bus station at the North Satellite Concourse at Hong Kong Airport

And a recent project

In 2016 the Midfield Concourse opened – adding 20 additional gates to Hong Kong International Airport.

It is another terminal building isolated from the rest of the airport, this time located between the aircraft maintenance hangers and the air traffic control tower.

Midfield Concourse at Hong Kong International Airport now open for use

But access for air travellers is much easier – the existing airport people mover system was extended west to serve the new terminal.

Underground guideway between Terminal 1 and the Midfield Concourse

So why isn’t the North Satellite Concourse part of the same system?

I’m guessing two reasons – building a tunnel beneath an operating taxiway is complex, and a location of the terminal means a northward stub would need to be operated as a branch line from the rest of the system.

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