Hong Kong’s MTR must make sure service lives up to its reputation
Recent Central station blackout a blow to the image of world-class efficiency
The Mass Transit Railway used to be the synonym for efficiency and reliability. But the perception is being challenged as more problems have emerged in recent years. From the controversial fare adjustment mechanism and frequent service breakdowns to new project delays and cost overruns, the railway giant is struggling to live up to its reputation as one of the world’ s finest transportation systems.
Although the power failure in Central Station on Tuesday did not disrupt train services, passengers were left navigating in the dark for hours. Shops in the affected area were forced to shut down or do business without lighting. Scores of staff carrying hand-held lighting were deployed to help passengers getting on and off trains. While most travellers continued with their journey without difficulties, the scenes hardly matched MTR’s image as a world-class underground system.
How the circuit breakdown came about is now the subject of an investigation. But the probe will not be complete without addressing another key question. Why did it take six hours before power supply could be fully restored? In a modern city where technical glitches are expected to be fixed in no time, the duration seems unacceptably long.
The company has come under fire for failing to maintain service quality despite making billions of dollars in profits every year. This year’s 2.65 per cent fare increase is already the seventh in a row, thanks to a much-criticised formula which links fare increase to wages and productivity. Passengers may feel the fare rise even harder to swallow after Tuesday’s blackout.
With millions of people using its network every day, MTR carries a heavy burden on its shoulders. The expectation for it to operate with clockwork precision makes it even more challenging. Even the slightest disruption can turn into chaos.
Despite repeated incidents, our underground system is arguably still one of the best in the world. But the fine reputation needs to be backed by high-quality service.