More accountability needed for MTR

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 4:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 9:02am

We tend to take it for granted that the city's relatively young urban rail system sets the bar high for many older underground services around the world. It is therefore a worry to hear the chief executive of the Mass Transit Railway Corporation admit that its performance in the first half of this year was "very bad".

To put Jay Walder's statement into perspective, six of the seven serious delays - more than 30 minutes - on the entire network occurred on the East Rail line from Hung Hom to the border, compared with none last year and one in 2012. Altogether the entire network suffered 78 delays lasting more than eight minutes, or an average of three a week.

Given the size of the network operation, most passengers would hardly be aware of them. Nonetheless there seems to have been a marked decline in service performance. Considering that the MTR currently serves five million passengers a day and is building five new lines, this raises the question whether it has taken on more than it can chew.

With nearly six months still to go, this year is already one the MTR can hardly wait to put behind it, after delays in all five construction projects. The HK$67 billion cross-border high-speed link has been delayed for two years, while also behind schedule are the West Island line, the first phase of the Sha Tin-Central link, the Kwun Tong line extension and the South Island Line.

These problems have done nothing for public satisfaction with the system, just when it has increased fares by 3.6 per cent. This raises questions about governance and accountability that call for more rigorous internal monitoring and government oversight to ensure that the MTR upholds its reputation at home and abroad as a world-class railway operator. We wish Walder well in his self-imposed task, before his contract ends next year, of restoring the system's credibility and pushing forward the five major construction projects.