MTR on right track as it bids to overhaul outdated by-laws
Relaxation of some rules, such as the ban on swearing and filming, should be welcomed, while others on eating and drinking will rightly remain
It may come as a surprise to passengers who make millions of uneventful MTR trips every day that they are covered by a web of by-laws – or the etiquette of train commuting, with penalties for breaches. They protect the comfort and safety of other passengers, targeting indiscretions ranging from abusive behaviour to putting feet on seats and queue-jumping. But the Mass Transit Railway’s by-laws have not kept up with changing times, fluid community standards and perceptions of what is reasonable conduct. A review began a year ago because some appeared to have become dated. Incidents and inconsistencies involving, for example, large musical instruments and sporting equipment have been evidence of that.
Proposals for more tolerance, due to come before lawmakers soon, look set to be the subject of lively bipartisan debate. People familiar with them say they include lower fines for swearing and scrapping the ban on filming videos on railway premises to fall in with advanced mobile technology. The aim, according to one source, is to “address the reality” as trains on the growing network become more crowded with commuters and the influx of mainland visitors.
The relaxation of curbs on abusive language would not apply to cases that might annoy or disturb passengers. This is a subjective judgment, and the amendment is bound to draw mixed reaction. The source explained that it was “very common” for passengers to utter expletives during private conversations on crowded trains.
Rightly, there is to be no relief from one rule that is fundamental to the MTR’s international reputation for efficiency and cleanliness. That is the ban on eating or drinking on trains, increasingly defied during the morning rush with consumption of fast-food breakfasts and hot drinks. Likewise with oversized luggage, which is unfair to other passengers and a potential safety hazard. More rigorous enforcement of these by-laws would improve passenger experience.
Ultimately, the ban on foul language should protect MTR staff from abuse and safeguard passenger comfort. The overhaul is overdue. That said, passengers generally show a responsible attitude to compliance with reasonable minimum standards and commendable tolerance and forbearance of diversity.