The peak-hour jams on the MTR are due to the city's record number of workers rather than the increasing number of mainland visitors, a government adviser says.
"People complain that mainland travellers are making our traffic very busy. But the major reason is that the number of employees [in Hong Kong] has risen by more than 100,000 over the past two years," executive councillor Cheung Chi-kong said.
Cheung, who was speaking during a forum yesterday, said people who blamed mainland visitors for the city's crowded trains were reaching the "wrong conclusion".
Hong Kong's unemployment rate stands at only 3.1 per cent.
Government documents showed that during morning peak hours, the East Rail and Tseung Kwan O lines run at full capacity. The West Rail and Tsuen Wan lines run at 99 per cent and 98 per cent, respectively, and the Island and Kwun Tong lines both operate at more than 90 per cent capacity.
The government has been urging the MTR to come up with measures, such as reintroducing concessions for travel before peak hours, to ease congestion.
Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Greg So Kam-leung said earlier this year that the number of tourists in Hong Kong could reach 100 million by 2023.
At the time, he said increased tourism could have an impact on Hongkongers. "Some passengers may not be able to board the MTR and would have to wait for the next train," he said.
Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai said Cheung was ignoring the fact that the increased number of people moving around in the city was the result of the individual visit scheme.
He said Hong Kong's economic structure, under which many workers travel south for work, played a part in the congestion, but that the impact of visitors could not be ignored.
"It's the common mindset of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's supporters," Wu said. "They don't face the music. They think mainland visitors bring only benefits to Hong Kong."