MTR may be on the right lines with public flats

There is no doubt that Hong Kong’s subway system is first class but it has come at a cost with project delays and expensive private housing; a different track could lie ahead

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 June, 2018, 4:50am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 June, 2018, 4:50am

Few people would dispute the subway system run by the MTR Corporation is world class. And when the Sha Tin-Central link finally opens, I am sure it will be every bit as good as the rest of the system that we have come to rely on as one of the city’s main transport arteries.

But the real question is, at what cost has this system been to the city? I ask this both with respect to the latest construction scandal at the new link, the most expensive project of its kind under the MTR, as well as to the overall MTR system, of which the government is the majority shareholder.

MTR has ‘social responsibility’ to build public housing above stations

On transit platforms at the Hung Hom station, steel bars were found cut to make it look like they had been screwed correctly into couplers.

This was discovered as far back as 2015. At least five instances were uncovered. The MTR and the contractor had a chat, and the problem was addressed. No one was any the wiser, until recently when the story broke.

MTR management now says it doesn’t know who was responsible. But doesn’t the act itself sound possibly criminal and the whole thing a possible cover-up?

MTR Corp identifies subcontractor in platform work scandal

The Sha Tin-Central link has suffered repeated delays with a cost overrun of HK$16.5 billion, taking the final price tag to a whopping HK$97.1 billion. It seems to me it would be cheaper if the government offered a free shuttle service for everyone travelling between Central and Sha Tin for the next 50 years.

For commuters, the MTR is a metro system, but for investors – and MTR management – the corporation is a de facto property developer. Its business model has long been to make profits from luxury property developments at new sites benefiting from MTR rail links.

At this point, its defenders would point out that those profits make it possible for the MTR to run a first-class operation while keeping fares relatively cheap, at least when compared to other major metro systems in developed countries.

Will Hong Kong’s search for land benefit the public or developers?

But then, isn’t the MTR part of the equation of developers plus the government driving up property prices? It addresses one social problem (mass transportation) by contributing to another (unaffordable housing).

Sources say the MTR is considering building public housing in some future developments. That’s a good start. We will see how far that goes beyond the discussion stage.