My Take

Hong Kong's MTR shows bad crisis management over stray dog

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 4:35am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 10:22am

The unfortunate MTR stray dog incident has become a full-blown crisis.

Assuming that staff on the ground did not do their job humanely, protesters used the full might of social media and street protests to demonise MTR staff and management.

Memorials and an online petition attracting tens of thousands of signatures condemned the MTR for not stopping the cross-border train which killed the animal. OK, that's going a bit overboard but their criticism is not without reason.

Not every problem and situation staff face can be covered by bureaucratic guidelines. Intelligent and well-trained MTR staff on the ground sometimes need to take the initiative to handle a situation satisfactorily.

The outcry forced senior managers such as MTR operations director Dr Jacob Kam Chak-pui to make a public apology. This in turn draws another round of complaints from MTR staff unions, whose leaders say managers essentially throw them to the wolves when they should have expressed support to boost staff morale.

They say if staff were not given guidelines, they could not be faulted. Really? The fault must lie with management which has failed to provide them when such incidents have happened before.

And so the blame game continues.

But could it all have been handled differently? The dilemma staff faced that day was a conflict between keeping the trains running smoothly and on time, and causing a delay, perhaps for hours, to try to save a stray dog.

Because of repeated train delays in recent months, the rail operator has been under enormous pressure. Some passengers and critics say it's more important to keep operations running; others say a life, even if it's just that of a stray, is worth going out of the way to save.

I am with the latter group. If nothing else, MTR staff could always take the moral high ground if passengers complain that a rescue resulted in serious delays. That was what operators did in New York a year ago when they stopped trains for hours to save a couple of kittens.

Well, at least MTR staff will now have specific guidelines on how to handle strays.