Owning a car in Hong Kong

One of the key decisions any reasonably well-off family in Hong Kong must make is whether or not to keep a car. For many expats, especially we Americans, life without a car borders on the unthinkable. But running a car in Hong Kong presents a set of very particular problems.

I think I can offer some well-balanced comments on this subject. Mrs Tall and I didn't have a car for the first four years of our marriage, and then for three years we did -- and now we don't, once again.

Many Hong Kong people (especially fresh expats dazzled by their ability to negotiate Hong Kong's famously extensive public transport system) let out little screeches of revulsion at the very thought of owning a car in Hong Kong: 'I can make taxis go anywhere I want. I even took a minibus last week. And the air pollution is so bad anyone who has a car here is a filthy oilworshipping Nazi! The MTR!! The MTRRRRRR!!!!'

But in truth, having a car in Hong Kong can be a lot of fun. You can drive twisty, leafy roads in the New Territories, and it's enjoyable since they're usually not very busy. You can get out to remote areas for hiking or golfing, and not have to plan your trip as if it's the Normandy Invasion. You can have a large dog, as the Talls did for many years, and take him where you please. You can dump your baby's folded-up stroller and gargantuan diaper bag into the trunk, and be off!

Having a car can also save you a lot of time, no matter what the naysayers tell you. You can pick up visitors at the airport, and avoid needing to pound public transport logistics into their jetlagged brains. If you've got a parking space at work, and if you've got no direct public transport link, you may be able to halve your commute time, or even do better. And if you live out in some of the more rural areas of Hong Kong that lack good public transport options, you will likely feel like you really do need a car.

The disadvantages? Well, they start and end with the cost. Cars, and everything to do with them -- including parking, fuel, maintenance, licensing, insurance and tolls -- are really, really, really shockingly expensive. Gasoline runs around HKD13.00 a litre, i.e. over US$6.00 a gallon. The license for the now-departed Tallmobile, which was an older, and therefore cheaper, car to license, was nearly a thousand US dollars each year. A month's parking at the Tall's current building costs HKD2,400, i.e. over USD300. And so on. The Talls' financial advisor, during the period we had our car, forced us to consider how many taxis we could take each month for the same amount of money we were spending to keep a car: it turns out we could have lived in one. Well, not quite, but you can do the math yourselves. Nevertheless, we eventually dropped our car not because of this scolding, but because we'd moved to our new flat, which is right on the MTRRRRRRRRRRRR!!

Sorry, just got caught up in a little public transport head-rush.

Oh, and it's also hard to find parking in many parts of Hong Kong, the traffic can be very bad, and there are loads of inexperienced, overconfident, and otherwise plain bad drivers infesting the roads.

So why is the number of car owners in Hong Kong relentlessly increasing, even in these lousy economic times? It's human nature. The more exotic and forbidden the fruit, the more it shines out there on the branch, doesn't it? Having a car continues to be a major Hong Kong status symbol, in ways most Westerners can't quite imagine.

How seductive is having a car in Hong Kong? Last month, with a somewhat embarrassed grin, our financial advisor admitted he'd just got one!


Parking in Hong Kong

This article from Slate magazine is an eye-opener; it had me thinking about something common in a new way.

It’s about the cost of parking. Its simple thesis is that in many places, parking is grossly underpriced, i.e. it’s provided ‘free’, as in the enormous lots at suburban shopping malls in the USA, but that the direct costs of building and maintaining these lots, plus the opportunity costs of devoting so much potentially economically productive land to them, is huge but largely ignored. ‘Free’ street-level parking in cities also takes some hits.

The article’s author, Steven Landsburg, also neatly links free parking with its inevitable environmental impacts, which aren’t positive at all, of course.

Surely, then, HK must have some of the most economically-efficient and environmentally-sound parking on Earth – our lack of land makes the very notion of ‘free parking’ risible, at least in the urban areas, and, if Landsburg is right, appropriately so.

I never owned a car when I

I never owned a car when I was in Hong Kong. Now, I cannot imagine living in the States without one. In fact, I own three cars, since I have a 2 car garage and a broad driveway.


we've just celebrated 8 months car-free.
Whether to have one or not I think depends a lot where you live. we're in midlevels and can walk everywhere, and have easy access to lots of cheap taxis. If we lived on the south side, territories etc. I think we'd consider having a car.
Parking is a huge issue.
on the plus side, we do feel smug and virtuous living without a car.
The kids miss it far more than we do, by the way!!


From the hotel restaurant where I was having breakfast one day, I was able to see the cars driving by below.  I realized that it must be such a status symbol to have a car in Hong Kong when I saw a perfectly shiny, seemingly mint-condition, old model Honda Civic drive by...


Driving in Hong Kong

Funny really, because this sound just like how it feels like to own a car in the UK.

The government has made it desperately expensive, using CO2 as an excuse in the progress to dress up stealth taxes to pump money into the state coffers.  Unlike Honk Kong, public transport is at best quite hopeless.