Minibus

Cyberport, Hong Kong | C.1967

Photo Credit: Dinah Peña

It takes a small leap of faith to board a Hong Kong minibus, and another leap to get to the desired destination—because the ride you’re about to embark on is not for the faint of heart. These creamsicle-colored 19-passenger maxim Toyota Coasters are used to efficiently transport the public to areas where the standard bus line cannot reach, and they‘ve been known to do so with little regard to the rules of the road.

They’ve been cruising like this since 1967, during the Cultural Revolution. Hong Kong was crippled by protests, strikes, and demonstrations intent on overthrowing British colonists. When bus drivers went on strike, shared taxis (which until then were only used in rural areas) began to illegally pick up passengers in urban areas. With few other choices for transport, the government legalized this additional service.

The convenience comes at a cost. According to the Hong Kong Transportation Department, over the period of 2005-2015, minibuses had nearly 20 times the accident rate of private cars. Why do people still use them? They’re convenient, and they’re fast. Though their maximum speed was uniformly throttled to 80km/hour, that’s the speed many drivers maintain for their entire route.

There are two lines of minibuses: Green Minibuses (GMBs, green-roofs) and Public Light Buses (PLBs, red-roofs). A GMB has fixed routes, schedules, service hours, and ticket fares; while a PLB is more… “flexible.”  To board these red-topped torpedoes, a passenger should not expect predictable timing, and instead must flag them down, call out one’s stop, and steel one’s nerves. The only guarantees are a terminus and a driver seasoned to change lanes and routes on a dime to avoid traffic or pick up passengers.

So hop on, if you find yourself short on time and in the mood for reckless adventure. But if you’re driving yourself, we suggest you adhere to common knowledge in Hong Kong: no vehicle can overtake a red minibus.

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