Hong Kong MTR

Obsolete by-laws governing misbehaviour on public transport must be scrapped or relaxed

A review is long overdue as recent controversy over the handling of oversized musical instruments and luggage on the MTR shows

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 May, 2016, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 May, 2016, 12:45am

A long overdue review of the Mass Transit Railway by-laws is back on the agenda finally. The company admits that some clauses and penalties regarding passengers’ misbehaviour appear obsolete and need to be scrapped or relaxed. But it may take some time before changes can be introduced, as the review is expected to last for a year.

It is nonetheless good to hear that the problems are not being swept under the carpet. The overhaul was supposed to be conducted following the rail merger in 2007. But the proposals put forward by the company failed to find consensus support from society.

While the exercise is primarily to iron out the inconsistencies between the rules applied to the MTR and the East Rail, which was previously run by Kowloon and Canton Railway, pressure to review offences that are seen as unreasonable or obsolete is also growing. This includes a HK$5,000 fine for swearing or being improperly dressed within its premises.

Like buses and ferries that have their own by-laws to enhance passengers’ safety and operational efficiency, the MTR is also vested with such powers. But with power comes responsibility. The companies are not only expected to make rules that are reasonable and keep them up-to-date; they also need to enforce them in a fair and equal manner.

With millions of passengers using the railway system every day, people’s expectations of the MTR are even higher. Last year, there were 2,643 prosecutions of various kinds, representing one in around 700,000 passenger trips. The breaches are by no means rampant. But as some 40 per cent of the prosecutions are related to passengers’ conduct over the past few years, it is essential that the rules are not seen as overly restrictive.

When it comes to law enforcement, any step in the wrong direction can spark controversy. We trust the MTR has learned its lesson from handling oversized musical instruments and luggage. The review should be handled with care and sensitivity.