China Travel Service ‘preferred’ provider for tickets from Hong Kong on high-speed rail
Source close to MTR Corporation says talks between relevant bodies are ongoing, but state-owned travel agency is preferred service provider
State-owned China Travel Service (CTS) has emerged as the preferred choice for selling express rail tickets at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon terminus for destinations beyond the city’s network.
A source close to the MTR Corporation, which will operate the Hong Kong section of the high-speed line, said negotiations between relevant bodies in Hong Kong and mainland China were ongoing, but the travel agency was the preferred service provider.
The MTR cannot sell tickets to all destinations on the high-speed network because of accessibility issues with the mainland system, another insider said earlier.
Ticketing and luggage restrictions are among the immediate issues passengers will face upon the section’s debut, expected in September.
It has been confirmed that MTR Corp will sell tickets for only four short-haul and 14 long-haul destinations involving the line’s Hong Kong section, which cost HK$84.4 billion (US$10.7 billion) to build.
For other destinations, the government said it could bring in a mainland operator, which would set up booths and machines in the ticketing hall of the terminal.
“China Travel Service is in talks with the Hong Kong government for the ticketing office on [level] B1, and a deal is likely to be in place by the third quarter,” the first source said.
The company already provides a service for Hongkongers to book express tickets but charges a fee of HK$50 to HK$100 per ticket.
It is also the only entity in the city that can process applications for a permit that allows Hong Kong permanent residents to travel to the mainland without a visa.
A service charge will be applied to all tickets from Hong Kong, regardless of the point of sale, the source said, adding that the fee would vary for long- and short-haul trips.
Those who want to avoid the charge will have to buy tickets at Guangzhou South station, a key interchange for other mainland destinations, or order tickets online and collect them at the station.
Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing, who is also deputy chairman of China Travel Service (Hong Kong), did not confirm or deny CTS’s potential involvement in West Kowloon ticketing services. But he said it was up to mainland authorities to decide who would sell tickets alongside the MTR at West Kowloon. There might even be more than one operator, he said.
Yiu said that more travel agents in Hong Kong would soon be able to book express rail tickets, providing they met requirements set by mainland authorities.
The arrangement would be ready before the line started running, he said.
The baggage allowance on express trains would also be stricter than Hongkongers are accustomed to on local transport.
According to the China Railway website, passengers are allowed to carry luggage with combined dimensions (length plus height and width) of no more than 160cm.
“Rod-shaped” objects must be no longer than two metres.
In terms of baggage weight, children are allowed 10kg, adults 20kg and diplomats 35kg.
China Railway does not offer a checked baggage service. Passengers with excess baggage will either have to ship or discard the extra items before boarding. Folding wheelchairs are not considered baggage.
The MTR allows one piece of luggage per passenger with total dimensions of less than 170cm. Passengers are also allowed to carry “several small pieces of luggage”, so long as the combined dimensions are within the 170cm.
At Hong Kong International Airport, travellers are allowed a carry-on bag no bigger than 56cm in height, 36cm in length and 23cm in width.
The maximum check-in weight and dimensions for luggage vary among airlines.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, a Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress, suggested a review of the baggage size and weight limit on the express rail link.
“For long-haul passengers, it may not be enough,” he said.
Tien said express rail limits in Japan and Taiwan were 250cm and 220cm respectively.
Allowing passengers to bring more luggage might require clearing a carriage for storage, he said.