Watch: Hong Kong's MTR at capacity during peak hours
The government has asked the MTR Corporation to study measures to ease the squeeze on rush-hour trains, most of which are near-full based on a new measure of capacity.
The Transport and Housing Bureau says changing passenger habits - including the growing use of mobile gadgets - means capacity should be calculated based on a maximum of four passengers per square metre instead of six. Options to ease the crush include operating more trains and ripping out seats.
Under the new standard, the East Rail and Tseung Kwan O lines are at maximum capacity at peak hours, up from 70 per cent under the old measure. The West Rail, Tsuen Wan, Kwun Tong and Island lines are at more than 90 per cent of capacity, with the Ma On Shan line at 80 per cent.
"Passengers ... are less willing to board a train that looks crowded even when there is room available. They prefer waiting for the next train," the bureau said in a paper to the Legislative Council yesterday. "Besides, there is an increasing number of passengers reading newspapers or using mobile devices such as tablet computers or smartphones during their trips that require more personal space."
The older standard was established in the 1980s and '90s, and the government said the new measure would be used in setting service benchmarks for all rail lines planned from now on.
The bureau said the MTR Corp would seek to increase train frequencies on the West Rail, Ma On Shan and Tseung Kwan O lines, where the signalling system can accommodate it. Trips could be added on the East Rail line, although the company previously stressed there was no more space because of signalling limitations.
Systems for other lines will be upgraded, with work on the Island, Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan and Tseung Kwan O lines expected to be complete from 2018 to 2022, allowing for a 10 per cent increase in capacity.
The corporation would also be asked to study an early-bird scheme to encourage passengers to travel earlier and the removal of seats in some compartments. The MTR has also commissioned overseas universities to study measures to ease congestion. The government believes the opening of new lines will help.
Transport capacity is a hot topic amid projections that tourist numbers will double in a decade, and complaints that the city has become overcrowded from an influx of mainland visitors.