MTR may cut fines for swearing, other offences on trains

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 January, 2009, 12:00am

Fines for using foul and offensive language on MTR trains will be reduced if proposed changes to the railway's bylaws are approved.

The MTR Corporation has refused to abolish the offence altogether, despite lobbying from lawmakers. The railway has sought to assure the public that people would not be detained for swearing in private conversations, but only if their language was offending fellow passengers - which is very difficult to detect.

Under the proposed changes, tabled yesterday before the Legislative Council's railways subcommittee, the fine for abusive language, even in a private conversation, will fall from HK$5,000 to HK$2,000.

Independent lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip said, however, that a 'remote chance' of being caught is not an excuse to retain an unreasonable regulation. 'This is not about how many people were caught or how much they were fined; it is against the principle - the use of abusive language is not an offence in the bigger world.'

He said the rule was particularly ridiculous as the MTR had decided to exempt mobile phones from a bylaw regulating other nuisances, such as playing radios or musical instruments, on trains.

The rail operator, which absorbed the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation network last year, said it preferred to keep two sets of bylaws due to the two systems' different operating environments and needs. But lawmakers worry that the different bylaws will confuse passengers.

Other proposals include repealing the offences of loitering, and eating and drinking on trains.

The MTR will also extend the time it keeps lost property, from one month to at least three months. The provision on authorised crossing of the tracks would also be deleted because it was unnecessary.

An exemption would be provided for 'wrongfully entering or leaving the trains' during accidents or emergencies. The MTR has decided to maintain its restrictions on posting bills and unauthorised advertising displays, to ensure the smooth movement of passengers.

Penalties for breaking some bylaws will be amended under a proposed new system, in which 15 penalties will be increased, 16 reduced and four removed. A six-month imprisonment penalty for hawking in trains will be cancelled but the HK$5,000 fine will be retained. The three-month jail penalty for posting bills will be dropped.

The Transport and Housing Bureau said the changes were reasonable. 'The administration agrees that the MTRCL [MTR Corporation Limited] has taken a systematic approach in the review and all the concerns raised by the subcommittee on specific provisions have also been addressed,' it said. The MTR will seek lawmakers' views before drafting the amendments and tabling them to the legislature for approval.