The MTR is a good deal, especially for short trips (less so for longer ones). Like many other systems, the cost is based on distance. Since you have to use your Octopus card at entry and exit, the fare for your trip is deducted upon exit. This differs from a flat-fare system like Chicago’s, where you pay your fare upon entry and can then get out wherever you want without paying again. In that case, short trips subsidize the cost of longer ones. Let’s compare.
The 8-mile trip on the Chicago L from Uptown to the South Loop costs US$2.25. A comparable 8-mile trip on the MTR (from, say, Central to Kowloon Bay), costs HK$12.50, which is US$1.60. Nice.
When the distance gets longer, though, the flat-fare system is much better (obviously). You can take the CTA from O’Hare to downtown (about 15 miles) for only US$2.25. Heck, you can take the CTA from O’Hare to 95th street for the same fare, and that must be 30 miles. In Hong Kong, by contrast, the Airport Express from HKD to Central (about 21 miles) is HK$100. That’s US$12.90 (almost six times more expensive).
But the MTR is great for doing errands or sight-seeing, because it costs only a buck or two for short jaunts. Plus, the frequency of the trains means that you’re never wasting much time waiting on the platform.
Then there are the signs you just never expect to see.
Now if you’d like to watch a mildly hilarious but fascinating documentary on the MTR, you’ve come to the right place. In 1986, the MTR released this half-hour film, Iron Underground, about the history of the MTR, culminating in the opening of the Island Line. There’s lots of great historical footage of Hong Kong in here. Inexplicably, the soundtrack of the first part is Beethoven’s Egmont Overture; of the second part, the German electronic music group Tangerine Dream.
So give it a look. You won’t be able to stop.