Hong Kong MTR

Fines for disruptions on MTR need review

The rail operator was slapped with a paltry fine of HK$2 million after some services were suspended for 10 hours earlier this month, a drop in the ocean for a company worth many tens of billions of dollars

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 August, 2017, 1:13am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 August, 2017, 1:13am

A fine of HK$2 million seems a paltry sum for a multibillion-dollar listed company for one of the most serious service breakdowns on our rail service that occurred earlier this month, in which hundreds of thousands of passengers were affected for up to 10 hours. We trust the government and the rail operator, MTR Corp, are fully aware of people’s dissatisfaction with the service standards and the insignificant punishment, and will follow up accordingly.

The fine for the mayhem on August 5 was only one-tenth of the figure estimated by some news media earlier. The Transport and Housing Bureau explained that the mechanism took into account the longest possible delay experienced by commuters from start to finish, rather than the hours of service disruption. Records show that the longest ride on the affected Kwun Tong Line took 83 minutes to complete, 48 minutes longer than usual. Although the signalling glitch resulted in chaos for more than 10 hours, train services were not fully suspended. As the actual longest ride was delayed by less than two hours, it only warranted the second-tier penalty – a fine of HK$2 million – according to the government. This is way below the maximum of HK$25 million allowed under the mechanism.

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If penalties are meant for deterrence and accountability, the amount this time clearly fell short of public expectations. Given each major disruption affects hundreds of thousands of passengers, dismay is to be expected. There will be even greater dissatisfaction if such incidents are not seen as being properly followed up.

The MTR has been fined HK$85 million in total for 40 incidents since 2012. While the penalties are used to subsidise fare concessions, passengers would prefer a reliable rail service rather than piecemeal discounts to compensate for breakdowns.

There have long been suggestions to reform the penalty system. The formula could have been reviewed when the fare adjustment mechanism was up for an overhaul earlier. Regrettably, the government missed the opportunity. The pressure to address the inadequacies in the penalty mechanism will only grow if service disruptions become more frequent.