Intelligent transport systems (ITS) are by no means new on the Chinese mainland. ITS has been used for navigation, logistics and vehicle hire, and numerous service providers have established a foothold in this business area, including Didi, Cao Cao Mobility, Baidu Maps and AutoNavi (Gaode).
In Hong Kong, Octopus is the most popular electronic payment system, with the city’s public transport system being the first to use the Sony 13.56 MHz FeliCa radio frequency identification chip 30 years ago. The development of ITS on the Chinese mainland started in 1990s, and its application continues to expand with enormous market potential.
In this article, we investigate the application of ITS in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA). Let’s consider the following two scenarios, in which two families in Zhongshan are planning to spend a long weekend in Hong Kong:
Scenario 1 — lacking information on Hong Kong traffic regulations and ITS application.
Mr A, who holds a mainland driver’s license, would like to drive to Hong Kong but is worried about licensing requirements. His other concern is that in Hong Kong he would have to drive on the lefthand side of the road, rather than on the right, which he is used to. Eventually, he decides to travel to Hong Kong with his family by public transport. He would like to have information about public transport such as fares, journey times and routes. Without sufficient information about public transport in Hong Kong, he hesitates to bring along his elderly mother and infant child.
Scenario 2 — with sufficient information of traffic regulations and ITS application.
After doing some online research, Mr B, who holds a mainland driver’s license, knows that he can lease a car to drive in Hong Kong with his passport and current driver’s license. Knowing that parking spaces are limited in Hong Kong, he is also prepared to take public transport in Hong Kong. He has downloaded a mobile app, HKeMobility. With HKeMobility, Mr B can easily access information about public transport and driving in Hong Kong, like traffic incident alerts, special traffic arrangements, and major road works notices.
We see the difference between the two scenarios — with and without the availability of sufficient information and ITS. HKeMobility was developed by the Transport Department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government. Users can search the app for information about journey times and fares and real-time traffic conditions using different transportation modes and routes, and can access an optional route designed for people with visual or mobility impairment.
Drivers or travelers between Hong Kong and other cities in the GBA have different travel habits. Notably, the mainland is a righthand-drive region whereas Hong Kong is a lefthand-drive city. When a mainland driver crosses into Hong Kong, he or she may sometimes drive on the wrong side of the road, and vice versa.
According to the Hong Kong Immigration Department, during the first four days of the National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival holidays, there were 954,645 instances of Hong Kong residents traveling north to the mainland via land transport, while there were 609,158 instances of mainland visitors arriving in Hong Kong. Most travelers from other cities of the GBA to Hong Kong opted to use public transport.
With the return to normalcy following the resumption of quarantine-free cross-border travel, there has been a substantial increase in travel between the mainland and Hong Kong. For example, on Oct 1, the number of mainland visitors to Hong Kong was 128 times the number on the same day in 2022. In addition, the GBA is developing into a center for international business and trade, requiring efficient business travel options to facilitate business activities. Encouraging travelers to use ITS and share their travel plans can help transport services providers provide adequate services. Encouraging the use of ITS mobile apps, like HKeMobility, among cross-border travelers in the GBA will help boost the efficiency of the whole transport system.
In addition, there are now more transportation choices in the GBA. In January, the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong High-Speed Rail Hong Kong Section resumed operation. More direct rail routes operate between Hong Kong and the mainland, replacing the intercity through-train as the primary mode of transportation in the GBA. During the first days of the holidays, 146,000 people traveled to Hong Kong by high-speed rail. This is the most popular of all modes of transport from mainland cities to Hong Kong. Most Hong Kong travelers (nearly 240,000 people) chose the Luo Hu checkpoint, while 135,000 passengers took the high-speed rail. With the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge having resumed operation, the number of vehicles traveling back and forth between Hong Kong and the western side of the GBA is expected to increase significantly.
Another trend we note is that since 2022 the mainland has recorded an impressive sales figure of 5.67 million units of new energy vehicles, according to Bloomberg. At the same time, the mainland boasts the world’s largest charging network for electric vehicles. According to Bloomberg, there were 649,000 public chargers installed in 2022, representing over 70 percent of all new chargers worldwide. In 2022, Hong Kong had only 5,434 chargers, with 26 percent of them being slow chargers. Hong Kong will face another challenge in accommodating an influx of mainland electric vehicles traveling south. Future ITS information should cover the location of chargers, their types and availability.
Facing the increasing demand for travel and a variety of transportation choices, the GBA needs further investment in ITS research to optimize traffic management and enhance transportation efficiency. ITS also contributes to air quality improvement by reducing traffic emissions caused by congestion. Apart from further investment in ITS, harmonizing traffic regulations between Hong Kong and mainland GBA cities is necessary. In the long term, Hong Kong and Macao may prepare to switch to righthand traffic.
Philip Wong is deputy director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University. Sony Chi is project officer of the institute.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.