The city’s cultural gem: connecting people and hearts

‘Ding dings’ are so tightly woven into Hong Kong’s landscape and our everyday fabric, having been trundling across the Island’s northern fringe for the past 116 years — and counting. One of the city’s earliest forms of public transportation, and currently its most environmentally friendly, our tram fleet comprises one of the world’s few remaining double-decker trams, says Cyril Aubin, managing director of Hong Kong Tramways. Since its inception in 1904, ‘ding dings’ have become an iconic symbol of Hong Kong’s heritage, featured prominently in travel guides and frequented by tourists eager to experience the cityscape while on the move. For Hongkongers, however, the tram is as much an affordable, convenient way to get around the Island as it is a cultural gem.

At the helm of a piece of Hong Kong’s heritage

Passionate about trams, Luk Man Wai counts himself lucky to have been working for Hong Kong Tramways for more than 15 years.

Luk first joined as one of the company’s many motormen and women, who drive the ‘ding dings’ along Hong Kong Island’s different passenger routes.

“I enjoy being outdoors and cannot stand [work that requires me] to stay in the office all the time, so this job is ideal for me,” Luk says.

He and his colleagues have first-hand experience of the massive changes that have occurred following redevelopment of large areas of the city. “In Sai Wan, for example, there used to be many factories and warehouses, but most of them have been torn down and replaced by residential buildings and hotels,” he says.

Luk, who now works as an instructor training novice tram drivers, says he enjoys the satisfaction of helping thousands of passengers reach their tram-stop destinations safely each day. He also enjoys interacting with them, too.

“Once, on a party tram, a man proposed to his girlfriend with a bouquet of 999 red roses,” Luk says. “I was delighted to be the motorman for the couple’s unforgettable journey.”

Echoing the sentiment, Cyril Aubin, Hong Kong Tramways’ managing director, says ‘ding dings’ embody the true Hong Kong spirit, and serve as collective memories for its people.

The tram system is built locally and maintenance is mostly done in-house at its Whitty Street depot factory — the only remaining industrial activity still being carried out on Hong Kong Island.

“This unique transport system offers a sense of simplicity and authenticity — a slower pace of connectivity that we could all use in our crazy urban lives,” says Aubin, who takes the tram daily from his home in Wan Chai to his office at Whitty Street Tram Depot in Sai Wan. “To be in charge of maintaining and sustaining something that Hongkongers prize and love, not only for transportation but for what it represents in terms of memories and heritage, has just been amazing,” he says.

‘Ding dings’ iconic image has continued despite the fleet regularly evolving and facing routine upgrades over the years. The latest model to go into service is the company’s seventh-generation tram.

“The [old] wooden body has been replaced by aluminium, making it lighter, stronger and more robust,” Aubin says. “We’ve also redesigned the seats and interiors, adding handrails and handles, so rides are more ergonomic and comfortable for our passengers. We’ve also improved the motors so they consume less energy than before.”

In the near future, these trams will become smarter, says Aubin who moved to Hong Kong with his family to take up his job in 2016. Using big data and artificial intelligence, Aubin and his team are working to improve the operational efficiency and reliability of ‘ding dings’. He says: “We are currently working with scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong to develop special algorithms, so the tram system becomes even more robust to better serve Hongkongers.”

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Written by the South China Morning Post (Morning Studio)
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