Like San Francisco and Melbourne, Hong Kong has its own inimitable street-transport experience, the British-style four-wheel double-deck trams that the locals call “ding-dings”. (There was a public outcry in 2000 when the bells were briefly replaced by a beeper.)
The tramway dates back to 1904, when a fleet of British-built single-deck electric trams began running between Kennedy Town and Causeway Bay.
Double-deckers, originally with open tops, arrived in 1912.
The route was later extended eastwards to Shau Kei Wan, eight miles from Kennedy Town, and in a loop round the Happy Valley racecourse.
Though the trams duck inland in places, the main line largely follows the shore line of the early 1900s.
The system was restored after the Second World War and while street tramways in Britain went into steep decline Hong Kong’s double-deckers proved invaluable as the colony’s population expanded in the 1950s.
The main line was double-tracked in 1949, and the tramway began to build its own cars in the traditional pattern, double-ended, fully enclosed, with four-wheel trucks and British electrical equipment, taking power by trolley poles.
Single-deck trailers were introduced in 1964, and when they disappeared in the early 1980s Hong Kong became the only tram-system in the world exclusively using double-deckers.
There are two teak-framed private-hire trams of antique appearance, convincing to the average tourist [Hong Kong Sightseeing Tram Tour – TramOramic Tour (hktramways.com)] though in fact they’re of no great age: no 28, Albert, dates from 1985 and 128, Victoria, was built in 1987. They were joined by a open-balcony tour tram, 68, in 2016.
Two other trams remain unmodernised: 50 is a static exhibit in the Hong Kong Museum of History, and 120 continues to operate with its teak and rattan seating.
Travelling on a Hong Kong tram feels like a time-warp: much more than any of the heritage tramways in Britain, this is real transportation serving ordinary workaday passengers going about their daily routine. For tourists, moreover, the trams provide a grandstand view of shops and shoppers for miles.
Since 1976 passengers have boarded at the rear of the car through a turnstile and alighted at the front, paying their fares beside the driver. All termini are balloon-loops, and trams are driven from one cab rather than two.
The appearance of the trams seems constant, though nowadays enlivened by all-over advertising, yet they have in fact been subtly modernised: the heavy British controllers have been replaced by electronic controls and the seating is more comfortable.
A single flat-rate adult fare works out at around 23p in sterling: https://www.hktramways.com/en/schedules-fares.
It’s even cheaper than the Star Ferry.