It’s 11:50 p.m. Start running. Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) usually closes at midnight and the station is fifteen minutes away.
Without a doubt, the MTR is one of the easiest ways to get around Hong Kong. The railway system is comprised of ten lines, and everything is color coded—all you need to know is the name of the town you’re trying to get to and then you follow the red, blue, orange, and purple colored lines to your destination. This is especially helpful for me as I have a limited sense of direction. While trying to meet my roommate in central Hong Kong, I accidentally went to Wo On instead of On Wo lane, and a five-minute walk turned into a forty-five-minute adventure. It’s much easier to take an underground system without having to worry about swerving locals on the sidewalks.
Aside from ease, the MTR is also incredibly punctual. When visiting the corporation, as part of Georgetown’s MSB program, the company boasted that they have a 99.9% efficiency rate. Everything is timed to the second; when you get off of one line, the connecting train is synchronized to pull up across the platform, leaving you with a minimal wait time.
In order to take the MTR, you have two options: a single ride card or an octopus card. For the single ride card, you put your destination into a nearby machine and pay for the ride with exact change. At the conclusion of your visit, the exit ways will take your card.
With a name that’s most definitely a cousin of the British system’s (across the pond they use the Oyster card), the Hong Kong octopus card functions like a credit card. Aside from being able to pay for the relatively inexpensive train fair, the card will also work at a number of shops, including 7-Eleven, or Club Seven as we affectionately referred to it throughout this trip. Pro tip: your octopus card will even work at McDonald’s, which has exotic ice cream flavors such as Green Tea.
Now, the MTR is a great system. However, the Mass Transit Railway’s main profits, interestingly, do not lie in transportation. Rather, as we learned through our corporate visit, the company buys the land above its stations. This land is then developed into revenue streams such as rentable houses (MTR manages 96,000) or malls. After a person is done shopping, they take an elevator into the underground and ride the MTR home. There are also cloth and food shops inside of the MTR, like the aforementioned Club Seven or Ms. Fields Cookie Cakes. In total, the MTR boasts over 1,300 station sites. As it turns out, this is a great strategy. In 2016, the company earned approximately 45.2 billion Hong Kong.
The MTR holds a special place in my heart. The system gives a foreigner a glimpse into the culture of Hong Kong—efficient and lively with a twinge of British influence. Moreover, it’s much easier to use than navigating the busy streets of the city. And, most importantly, the MTR will get you where you want to go at a low cost. Run to catch that last midnight train and pull up, five minutes later, in central Hong Kong, ready to start your night.