I always get asked the same old question, “What do you miss most about living in Hong Kong?”. Needless to say, besides the extensive range of cheap local food, transportation and commuting made it to the very top of my list.

Growing up in a city where the transport network has been running as scheduled on a punctuality rate of 99.9%, I was perplexed with the vast number of commuting hiccups I experienced here in London. Tube strikes, signal failures resulting in intermittent stops during the journey, train delays and cancellations...they never struck me as reoccurring problems that actually exists in an almost day-to-day commuting basis.

Before diving deep, it’s  always a good idea to lay out the statistics (being the researcher that I am):

Across the London Underground network, there has been a total of 884 hours of delays as a result of 4,000 signalling issues between January 2016 and February 2018 - which comes out as an average of more than five signal failures per day.

As opposed to this, having spent £400 million a year on solely maintenance and repairs, official MTR Corporation statistics recorded only 29 incidents of service delays of 31 minutes or longer from December 2016 to December 2018.  Despite its significantly smaller incident rate, I find it extremely interesting on a cultural standpoint on how different the reactions are from a societal level in both London and Hong Kong towards these delays.

To illustrate the severity of this in Hong Kong, any delay triggers an independent investigation and a report on remedial action, including televised public apologies and fines. The company is required to inform the government about service disruptions of more than eight minutes, and an agreement is made between the government and the MTR to pay a fine if there are delays of more than 31 minutes. For instance, the largest MTR service breakdown mayhem that happened last August resulted in a what was supposed to be a HK$20 million fine, but later fine-tuned to HK$2 million fine became a large societal uproar. As a form of apology in redeeming themselves, the MTR Corporation offered to cut fares by half for a day.

On the other hand, from my level of awareness about tube delays in London, the sort of remedial action taken against tube delays requires a more  proactive approach - claiming for refunds online if the train is being delayed 15 minutes or more.

Having regularly commuted in both London and Hong Kong, it is safe to say that regardless of how the government tries to resolve the obvious pain points of commuting (tube delays etc), the fact is that commuting is still both a mentally and physically stressful situation on a personal level. It’s a collective feeling, and I have proof for this - the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports the feelings of happiness and the sense that one's’ activities are worthwhile decrease with every successive minute of commuting. Crazy, right?

Interestingly, I came across another article the other day explaining how those who feel more positive about their commutes are the people who are able to use their travelling time more efficiently, whether it is from working, reading, catching up on news, or winding down. My point is, people expect real urban mobility solutions to solve their individual needs for each journey.  Whether it is providing network on the London underground lines, up-to-date information about delays on MTR apps, or more plug sockets inside both the MTR and tube, there are countless opportunities in improving the daily commuter journey on both a personal and societal level.

Perhaps it’s time to realise that this is a collective effort - individual sectors are not fully responsible for tackling the pain points; the government, businesses, local authorities and passengers are all responsible and have a part to play.