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Hong Kong MTR

MTR could do more than just ban lighters

In the wake of last month’s firebombing, the train operator banned the sale of cigarette lighters at station convenience stores. But it might have appeared more responsible, and certainly would have made more sense, to also ban the sale of tobacco

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 March, 2017, 1:41am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 March, 2017, 1:41am

Violent events that could have led to tragedy or major disaster not only leave physical and emotional scars, but also questions about what can be done to prevent a repetition. A case in point is the firebombing of a peak-hour MTR train at Tsim Sha Tsui station last month, that left 19 injured. Understandably, since the MTR tunnels and platforms provide a confined and crowded target zone, police and MTR officials have tried to leave no stone unturned as they reassess risk management on behalf of five-million-plus people who travel on the network every day.

When it comes to fire danger, cigarette lighters were bound to come to their attention. As a result, from last Wednesday, the MTR has banned convenience stores at stations from selling lighters to help ensure public safety.

This may show commuters that officials have their safety on their minds, but the question is whether it would make them any safer. Short of the kind of hi-tech entrance surveillance implemented in cities that have suffered horrendous terrorist attacks, what do you do about people taking lighters on the MTR anyway. And if they don’t have the excuse that they are smokers, how do you tell?

Ban on sale of lighters in MTR stations from March 1, following Hong Kong firebomb attack

A risk assessor’s dilemma is whether to ban lighter sales to make it a little harder for a would-be attacker to obtain one, even though they can be bought nearby at street level, or ban the sale of either tobacco or lighters. Or would it make any difference to do nothing? Possibly or even probably not, but better to be seen doing something. Hence the ban.

One passenger the Post spoke to appreciated the MTR’s sentiment. Admittedly the rail operator is expected to do its utmost to keep people safe without going over the top. But since it provides access to a huge captive passing trade, it might have appeared more responsible, and certainly would have made more sense, to ban convenience stores from selling either lighters or tobacco.

Ultimately, the latter is statistically more likely to harm people than firebombs. Doctors as well as security officials would have approved.