Hi. This is just a post for anyone out there who wants to learn to drive and is wondering about how to go about it. I'll list my experiences with the different driving schools and give a summary at the end. It's been a frustrating, difficult, annoying, tedious experience at times and I finally passed my test recently. Hopefully this will help anyone out there in the future and prepare you for, in my experience, how poor the learner driver system is here in HK.
1) Hong Kong School of Motoring (HKSM) - Notoriously long wait to book a test at their test centres in 'Ap Lei Chau' (ALC) and 'Shatin' (ST). ALC earliest exam date for part C was 8 months and ST 10 months. If you want an earlier date, it will depend on someone cancelling their appointment but this is near impossible to find out because you would have to call or visit them everyday to know.
The reason they are so popular is because their routes are easy, and that isn't an exaggeration. If you go to one of their shops, the assistants will show you the test route. The one at ALC starts with you navigating a roundabout and then for the rest of the route, you will only see about 3-4 cars on the road. To emphasis how straightforward it is, my instructor had a student who had passed her test at ALC but was taking more lessons because, 'she isn't used to driving with so many cars on the road'. No joke.
Also, if you sign up with HKSM, you MUST attend their classes. I never went with HKSM but from what I recall, you must attend the classes first before you are allowed to take any driving lessons (as per the transport dept).
If you aren't in a rush to pass your test and looking for an 'easier' test route, go with HKSM. The route is straightforward and I hear if you do fail, it's a shorter wait to rebook (5 months).
2) Kwun Tong School of Motoring (KTSM) - This place is an absolute joke. I signed up with them and for the most part, didn't have any problems 'learning to drive' (I already took lessons in my home country so changing gears, shoulder check etc. wasn't anything new). First, the waiting times for a test appear shorter than HKSM. 2 months wait for part B and 4-5 months for part C. Now, if like me you do parts B and C separately, you MUST pass part B (parking) before booking part C. So overall, the whole process takes 9 months (including part A the theory test that takes about a month).
If you sign up (don't sign up), you must attend one class where you get an intro to the school, the test routes (3 in total) and then, the teacher will take you and your classmates for a drive around one of the test routes. I had my class on a Saturday at 10 am and personally, couldn't think of anything better to do with my time. Once again, this class is compulsory and you must attend before taking any driving lessons (as per the transport dept).
Now onto the driving lessons. Part B is the 3 point turn and parallel parking. There are a set amount of classes you must have before taking the test so even if after the first lesson you have nailed it, the minimum requirement must be met because the HK transport dept has deemed that you only master the art of a 3 point turn and parallel parking, after a certain amount of hours. This is all done in KTSM's own private driving centre. It's straightforward enough and practise makes 'perfect'.
Once you pass part B, you learn part C which is the actual driving part. Yep, after passing part A and part B which together takes 3-4 months, you finally get onto the road. The advantage of KTSM is that they have 3 test routes and you practise all three over and over again. By my third lesson, I knew all the routes off the top of my head and all the routes are on Youtube. Lucky I did because over half my driving lessons, the instructor was asleep. No joke. I'm not a great driver and firmly believe most people need that bit of luck to pass because lots of different variables come into play to pass a test. But because of my previous experience of driving, I already knew what to do so needed minimal help. So I guess the instructors took this as a sign to nap for an hour.
There are three reasons why I do not recommend them: the first, they change instructors every lesson. You cannot choose one instructor. They rotate them around. Anything you have to work on they note down in your booklet and even then, it consisted of 1 to 3 words. The next instructor will take a quick look the next lesson. Very poor.
The second reason, they change cars/vans every lesson. Even though it's the same model, every car has a different feel such as the biting point. For the most part, I didn't have a problem during my driving lessons. But it cost me on exam day.
The third reason, the inconsistencies in what the instructors 'teach' you. One instructor might say to shoulder check when turning a corner. Another will say there is no need. One might say to pull up the handbrake at traffic lights, another will say no need. More often than not, because I was purely looking to pass the test, I had to ask the instructor what to do in this or that event before he would tell me. At the end of the lesson, there is minimal feedback. The most I got was 'you are a good driver', before he left for a cigarette (I guess napping makes one want to smoke).
Also, the English of some is poor. Hard to understand. I think that may be why some instructors were quieter than others. Afraid to speak.
I took a test with them and failed. The biting point of the van I drove was higher than any other and I wasn't used to it. I stalled at traffic lights. To make it clear, I don't have anything against KTSM because of the test. I messed up and take responsibility, but the whole setup (changing instructors, vans every lesson) is poor and whoever thought of that system needs a slap.
3) Going it yourself/Leekin - I finally booked with Leekin at the end of 2017. They are an independent driving school so are not affiliated with the HK Transport Dept. Their setup is what I would expect from home e.g. they use common sense and don't think of ways to waste your time. The waiting time for a test (part C) is wayyyy shorter. I booked a test for 2 months. Couldn't believe it. Why so short? Because the test is considered 'difficult' because of the 'road conditions' on HK Island (lots of cars, people running out from no-where or wheeling things on the road). But this is good practice because this is what it's like on HK roads.
If on HK Island, you will meet your instructor outside St Paul's hospital, Causeway Bay. Lessons are double every time, an hour and a half. My instructor was cool. His English was fine and he taught me to 'pass the test' which I was OK with. My test was at Happy Valley and there are three test routes. Only two are used, the third is rarely done. The routes are actually fairly short and not that difficult. It's the conditions that screw most people over. People diving in front of your car at the last minute crossing the road, other drivers looking to overtake you because you've left the safe amount of distance between you and the car in front instead of the typical 2 inches most drivers here in HK leave, drivers pulling out without looking because they're on their phone playing Candy Crush whilst their two year old is in the back and just general Hong Kongers being Hong Kongers (I'll leave it to you to insert your own thoughts here).
My only gripe with my instructor was that he had a tendency to put his foot on the brake. I still have no idea whether this was intentional or not, but occasionally, we would be stopped at a traffic light and I would press the acceleration and nothing happened. I realised he had his foot rested on the brake. He did this at times when I was driving too which annoyed me cause I thought, 'if I'm going too fast, tell me. Otherwise, I don't know if I'm doing something wrong'. But overall, he was alright and not just because I passed. He explained what to do and how to pass etc. I would recommend Leekin. Also, I took one lesson with a guy who used to work with Leekin. His initials are 'RC'. He was good and I would recommend him too.
The conditions at Happy Valley can be challenging but if you're ready, you'll pass. As any driver should be, just be focused of what's going on around you and know the road. The best advice my instructor gave me was, 'if in doubt, just stop'. And I did. A couple of times on my test a 'hazard' popped up like a lady unloading a box from her car or a driver who I wasn't sure was gonna turn left. In 'real' driving, both wouldn't have been an issue as long as I stayed alert. But I wasn't sure so I just slammed on the brakes. Shows the examiner I've seen the hazard and I've taken safe action.
If you've made it this far, fair-play to you. I said to myself once I passed (even though at times I wasn't sure I would), I would write my experience to help others in the future. Final thoughts; as I said at the beginning, learning to drive here can be a real pain in the ass. The test routes should be standardised. Why some test routes are private and 'easier' and others on an actual public road and 'challenging' (real driving conditions) I don't know. Only the dumbass who thought of this system can answer. It doesn't make any sense why the government schools say you must take a minimum amount of hours before you're 'ready' for a test. Everyone's different right? But I guess this is part of the culture here which is a discussion for another thread.
I would recommend going the private route whereby you find a private instructor and book your own test via the transport dept or go with a company like Leekin who are an independent driving school. The waiting times are way shorter and you learn to navigate real road conditions. I would only recommend HKSM if you aren't in a rush and looking for an 'easier' route. As for KTSM, just no. Stay away.
Good luck in your test. As they say in mandarin, Jai-yo (add oil)!!