By Manvel Keshishyan
“The train to Chai Wan is arriving…” Li Ka-po was one of the first to hear these words at the new Kennedy Town station, but she was not standing in front of the opening doors of a train – she was sitting at the desk in the customer service office.
“My job is both busy and fun,” said the 20-year-old. “I communicate with many people every day. Some of them seem to be confused or distracted, because when I give the money or card back to them, they unconsciously put them in their bag and [forgetfully] ask me ‘where is my octopus card?’ It is funny,” she said, laughing.
Being her first job, the new MTR station has changed her life. The Kennedy Town station has ten main staff. Their average salary is $10,000. They are responsible for the smooth commuting of about 2,000 people a day.
One of the frequent travelers is 50-year-old Marina Talieko from Philippines. She does domestic work in Kennedy Town and travels from North Point.
“Commuting by bus would take an hour, but the MTR is both comfortable and time-saving. It takes me 30 minutes to get to work,” said Talieko, getting ready to go home by MTR. But she has noticed that the bus takes twice as long for half the price: from North Point to Kennedy Town is $7.90 by MTR whereas it is just $3.40 by bus.
“They spent $18 billion? What a number!” says Cobi Chan, 21, with bewilderment when he learns the amount of money reportedly spent on the West Island Line. He thinks they could have done a better job with that much money. He commutes between Kennedy Town and HKU station regularly.
“If you go to HKU station in the morning, you find it very crowded because there are not enough lifts. We are always late because of the long queues. It takes around 15 minutes to get in the lift,” said Chan, a fourth year student at HKU.
He takes gym classes in Kennedy Town and uses the station three times a week. “I like this station. First of all, I like the toilet (laughter). Yeah really! It is always cleaner than in other MTR stations. And also the pictures hung up on the walls. Overall, the design is quite modern.”
Residents do not care about the design so much as the economic effects.
Saju Grun, 34, is the supervisor of the ‘Forbes 36’ bar-restaurant. “Our usual customers are mostly foreigners for whom it is easy to find our restaurant,” she says, adding, “Residents mainly work in central areas and, coming back by MTR, they often step in our bar to have a cool drink before going home.” ‘Forbes 36’ is situated just in front of the MTR station. She says that the MTR station has increased their turnover by at least 30 percent.
On the other side of the coin, fast food sellers and retailers have not received the same benefits as other major markets and restaurants. One of the saleswomen said that the new commuters did not become customers.
“I still have my usual customers, but their number has not increased because of the station. On the contrary, it has decreased,” says Chan Siyuho, a woman in her 50s.
Besides the small shops, the most affected people in Kennedy Town, apparently, are bus drivers. Half-empty buses are conspicuous proof of this.
“People only use buses if they want to go short distances in this area, and also when they go to places far from any MTR station” said Chun Li, 52, a bus driver.
Residents claim that the arrival of the MTR has boosted rents. The owner of a real estate agency on Belcher’s Street agrees that the new station has attracted many people to come and live at Kennedy Town, which in turn possibly made landlords reconsider their rent levels.
“During the last nine months rents have increased by $1,000-$2,000. It is not all because of the new station, but it has played a role too,” said Elit Wo. He says that you can now rent a small flat around the MTR area for $13,000-$15,000 and a furnished room for $5,000-$10,000.
Despite all this, residents of Kennedy Town like this area and are quite satisfied with the presence of an MTR station.
“It has changed our environment. Now Kennedy Town is a comfortable place to live,” said James Ho, a 64-year-old resident.