Getting around Hong Kong: Public sector smart mobility for the future

Hong Kong faces shifting demographics that require it to address smart mobility concerns. The city is heavily reliant on public transport and has a huge number of vehicles to manage and a growing, aging population to serve. How will it succeed? Digital technology will deliver the answers.

A constantly moving city

Hong Kong citizens are heavy users of public transport, with over 12.6 million passenger trips on public transport taken every day. Further to that, there are 354 licensed vehicles for every kilometer of road in Hong Kong. The congestion in Hong Kong causes residents to expend 36 percent extra time per year on commuting, compared to free-flowing traffic. Something has to be done.

Hong Kong has already taken initial steps towards developing technological ways to improve smart mobility: the government has put in place a forward-looking roadmap with a goal of transforming Hong Kong into a smart city. The city is proud of its public transportation systems and citizen mobility in general, but it can still drive more efficiencies.

Changing demographics

Across Asia, people aged 60 and over are on the increase, with the United Nations forecasting that the percentage of the population over 60 in Hong Kong will exceed 40 percent by 2050. This type of growth is markedly higher in cities and urban locations throughout APAC, which presents a need for the development and deployment of smart mobility solutions to help keep people mobile. In addition to making it simpler for people to get around, new smart mobility solutions also help all citizens stay better engaged in the life of the city and give them better access to medical and general services.

What is Hong Kong doing about it?

Under the vision of empowering Hong Kong with technology, the government has laid out an ambitious roadmap to make the city smart. The city has a “Smart City Blueprint” which encompasses public mobility, with multiple schemes and initiatives in the works. One plan is to integrate existing public transport applications such as HKeTransport, HKeRouting and eTraffic News into one universal app that makes mobility simpler for all users.

“In-vehicle units,” also known as IVUs, enable motorists with real-time traffic information and let them pay tunnel fees remotely without the need to stop at toll booths. Another traffic management scheme that Hong Kong is developing is the installation of around 1,200 traffic detectors at strategic junctions all over the city to provide real-time traffic information, scheduled to be completed by 2020.

Another public transport initiative is designed to release real-time bus information to citizens’ mobile devices and to also have it connected up and displayed at over 1,300 covered bus stops throughout Hong Kong by 2020. Mobile payments for parking meters, smart parking schemes that leverage smart city technology and real-time data are all also on the agenda.

The MTR factor

Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is heavily relied upon by residents and tourists alike to get around the city. The MTR is the backbone of Hong Kong's public transport network and serves 5.6 million passenger journeys every day.

Hong Kong is justifiably proud of the MTR, known to visitors as “the tourist’s friend,” and it boasts a world-leading 99.9 percent on-time train performance. Steps have been taken to make the MTR even easier to use, though, with technology at the center of them. The Octopus smart payment system is one of the best of its kind, but MTR now extends to offer mobile ticketing options based on QR codes and designated Ticket Issuing Machines (TIM) that accept mobile payment at tourist hubs. MTR also introduced a Digitalization Roadmap for Rail Gen 2.0, an initiative to enhance Hong Kong's rail transport service to meet evolving customer needs. For this, it was named Hong Kong’s Digital Transformer of 2017, and the company serves as a good example of digital driving smart mobility for all.

Not forgetting the environment

One of the major benefits of smart mobility schemes is that their increased efficiency can have a knock-on effect on the environment. Hong Kong has already committed to establishing bicycle-friendly areas with improved cycle tracks and cycle parking facilities, with sensors located at junctions throughout the city to monitor pollution levels.

The open data factor

Open data is an area of big potential for smart cities: defined as data that anybody can access, use and share, whether the entity is a government body, a business or an individual. The goal is to use this open data to drive social, economic and environmental benefits.

For smart mobility in Hong Kong, this can be a powerful tool. In addition to the bus stops and parking initiatives previously mentioned, Hong Kong can seek to collect mobile phone data of drivers and passengers in order to analyze traffic flow during peak hours and develop measures to reduce traffic congestion and enhance road safety in general. According to Nielsen research, 97 percent of Hong Kong citizens now use smartphones to access the Internet, so the base is there from which to draw the data.

A smart, mobile future for all

A smart city vision can be at the center of Hong Kong enhancing its public sector mobility for citizens. The Smart City Blueprint is a great place to start, and the government has predicted that it will be among the world’s earliest adopters of 5G mobile technology in 2020.

More than 50 percent of Hong Kong Internet users have stated their belief that it is important for Hong Kong to transform into a smart city, a home to smart mobility designed to save them time, enhance the quality of life and improve the environment and green nature of the city. Leveraging digital tools to create seamless mobility will be at the heart of that.

Public sector-led smart mobility initiatives can drive the transformation of urban transportation. Download the PwC report, Life in the Fast Lane, to find out how.

Edmund Yick
Edmund Yick

Edmund Yick is General Manager of Orange Business in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He is responsible for developing and managing the Orange Business portfolio of business solutions for multinational enterprises.

He has over 30 years of sales and management experience and is a Commerce and Business Administration graduate of the University of Toronto.