Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mini-buses in Hong Kong

Source: Wikipedia

A public light bus is a common public mean of transport in Hong Kong. It mainly serves the area that standard bus lines cannot reach as efficiently. It is also colloqially known as a minibus or a van.

Minibuses carry a maximum of 16 seated passengers; no standing passengers are allowed (although some drivers allow a standing passenger in the stairwell if he or she is about to let off another passenger). Minibuses typically offer a faster and more efficient transportation solution due to their small size, limited carrying capacity, frequency and diverse range of routes, although they are generally slightly more expensive than standard buses. The popularity of public light bus services in Hong Kong is due to the high population densities which are needed to support the extensive network of minibus routes.

A passenger wishing to get on a minibus simply hails the minibus from the street kerb like a taxi. A minibus can generally be hailed down at any point along a route, subject to traffic regulations, although sometimes particular stops are marked out. To alight from a minibus, a passenger customarily calls out to the driver that they wish to get off. The driver then raises his hand to acknowledge him. Tourists are often confused by the calling system, as one must know the route somewhat well to know when to call.

Landmarks, intersecting streets, and even grocery stores such as Wellcome can be used. Some Green minibuses are now equipped with a bell similar to those that are found on the regular buses. Passengers who ride on minibuses equipped with such bells are encouraged to ring the bell if they wish to get off at the next stop. However, calling out to the driver is still the dominant method of letting the driver know that a passenger wishes to get off the minibus.

There are two types of public light minibus, Green minibuses and Red minibuses. Both types have a cream coloured body, the distinguishing feature being the colour of the external roof, and the type of service that the colour denotes. In the past, the minibuses had a band of red or green painted around the body instead of colouring the roof.

Most of the minibus are Toyota Coasters, but a new and environmentally friendly Iveco Daily Green minibus has also been introduced to reduce air pollution. Most of the buses run on Autogas (liquefied petroleum gas or LPG). This type of fuel is not only cheaper, but also reduces emissions. The transport commission is making further efforts to reduce emissions by providing incentives for bus drivers to make the switch to even more efficient electric vehicles.

By 2005, there are 4,350 public light buses in Hong Kong, of which 1,660 are red minibuses (RMBs) and 2,690 are green minibuses (GMBs). The operations of these two types of services are regulated through conditions imposed by the Commissioner for Transport under the passenger service licences (PSLs).

Green minibuses
Green minibuses operate a scheduled service, with fixed routes and fixed fares. There are currently around 250 green public light buses routes with route numbers assigned. The exact fare must be tendered, or payment can be made by Octopus card. On some routes, passengers may pay a portion of the full fare (called section fare) if they are only travelling a section of the route. Sections are usually distinctive physical landmarks, such as crossing a tunnel or a bridge.

Red minibuses
Red minibuses run a non-scheduled service, although many routes may in effect become fixed over time. Red minibuses may operate anywhere where no special prohibitions apply, without control over routes or fares. The operation of red minibuses provides services according to market demand.

In most red minibuses, passengers pay just before they alight, and change for cash payment may be available, or may have a small amount deducted off the amount of change for the inconvenience (of giving change). Only a few red minibuses are equipped to accept payment by Octopus card. Red minibuses’ fares and timetables are not regulated by the Government, and so, may occasionally be more expensive than their Green counterparts.

As routes are not tightly regulated, the flexibility of routes is higher than green minibuses, since drivers may choose the optimum route to travel.

The greatest problem are with fares. As the minibuses do not have fixed fares, routes and timetables, the fluctuations in fares can be quite large. Some routes may reduce their fares to an unreasonable price in order to win more passengers, but when demand increases (e.g. during typhoons, when regulated buses and minibuses services are suspended), they can make increases in fares without limitation.

Another issue is speeding. From late at night to the early morning, in order to make more rounds during their shifts to earn more, drivers may risk speeding. A typically long journey can be dramatically reduced


  1. Is Red Mini-buses popular in Hong Kong or even in Singapore? They have no schedule to follow and might create more frustration to commuters.

  2. If there is demand, there will always be someone willing to meet the demand.

    During the off-peak period, a fewer number of mini-buses will run. During the busy hours, more mini-buses will come into operation.

    This is the free market working at its best.


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