The Hong Kong LRT
January 8, 2015
- A minimum frequency interval of 3mn. (in practice very few french LRT operate as les than 4mn interval)
- A maximum capacity of 6,000 persons per hour per direction (pphpd)
Indeed most french trams offer a capacity lower than 6,000ppphd and frequency interval greater than 3mn.
The parisian tram T3, probably the french busiest Tram, while having an excess of ~250,000 boardings/day, is not carrying much more than 4,000 pphpd  (that is almost the today transit capacity on the Vancouver Broadway corridor). Another important metric is the average trip length, it is 3.5km on the Parisian trams. For comparison the average transit trip length is 8km in Vancouver. The shorter the trip length is, the less important is the travel speed.
The Hong Kong LRT
The Hong Kong LRT illustrates it is certainly possible to go beyond the french limits, but it also illustrates the issues that entails.
The MTR suggests than in theory their LRT can carry 33,000pphpd, to recognize in practice that is not achievable due to street crossings. It is also worth to note than the MTR uses a very optimistic standard of 6person per sq meter: a crowding level Hong Kongers accept less and less. That said, it is probable that the Hong Kong LRT carries an excess of 10,000 pphpd on some corridors:
A first myth the Hong Kong LRT helps to dispell, is the supposed relationship between a transit technology and a building form. A myth unfortunately still alive in too many urbanism circles.
It also allows us to verify that a LRT can’t achieve any significant speed, with high frequency
- The LRT is operated by line of sight: a frequency close to 1mn is possible, and is essentially limited by station dwelling time.
- We have measured the average speed on the route 761P, which run in its own ROW, at less than 15km/h (this off-peak period)
Due to the high frequency, LRT vehicles bunching are frequent and signal preemption not possible. Narrow crowded platform make also for long dwelling. For reference, the 99B average speed is around 20km/h
But the main issue is one of crowd management:
LRT and bike in Hong Kong
Where the street ROW allows, bike track exists along the LRT:
and cycling is a well used mode to access the LRT stations:
However, while pedestrians get priority over cyclists as they should, the interaction between the both mode can be a bit clumsy, in fairly high traffic area:
Was the LRT the right choice?
As we have seen before, the quality of the urban environment is of little concerns to the Hong Kon authorities: The already anachronic high floor design of the LRT, at time of its opening in 1988, reflects this lack of concern. Poor LRT platform design and potential overuse of overpass is certainly a HongKong trademark too. Nevertheless, they have a “geometry” issue to address, which is the consequence of potentially too high pphpd for a nice integration in the urban fabric.
Since the opening of the West Line rail in 2003, the LRT is not a backbone transportation mode anymore, but a feeder to the mass transit line accomodating longer travel. That makes the LRT a right choice in regard of the short trip pattern to accomodate
That said, Sydney is building a LRT supposed to accomodate 9,000pphpd on its downtown segment, but
- this segment (George street) would be fully pedestrianized
- A single LRT line allows to operate long but less frequent trains, at least resolving some potential operational issue and trafic interaction
 Complete Streets: From Policy to implementation G. Thomson and T Larwin and T. Parkinson, TRB subcommitte on International Light rail develovpment – Rail-volution, Mineapolis, Sept 22, 2014.
 Dossier du débat public: extension du tramway (T3) a Paris, – janvier 2006, Paris
 Tramway et Bus à Haut Niveau de Service (BHNS) en France : domaines de pertinence en zone urbaine from Transport/Environnement/Circulation (TEC) n° 203, September 209.