Bassist prejudice: Hong Kong's MTR eases ban on cellos, larger musical instruments still not allowed
Trial scheme allows for registered instruments to be carried aboard, but larger guzheng and double bass will remain banned from trains
MTR bosses have eased size restrictions to allow pre-registered cellos to be carried on trains, but larger musical instruments will still be banned due to safety concerns, the railway operator announced on Tuesday.
Head of operations Francis Li Shing-kee said a four-month trial scheme, starting on Monday, would allow for most instruments to be taken aboard trains after they are registered.
"Having listened to the views of the public and conducted a detailed safety assessment, we have decided to launch the trial scheme that will allow passengers with some musical instruments exceeding current size restrictions to be able to travel on the MTR," Li said.
Under the scheme, the maximum length limit will be extended from 130cm to 145cm, and the total dimensions from 170cm to 235cm. Any permit-holder carrying an instrument within those limits will be able to travel on weekdays, except the morning peak hour from 8.15am to 9.15am, as well as all times at weekends.
Applications for the three-year permit - to be reviewed after the trial period - will be accepted from Monday and will take seven working days to process.
"This is really a good result - I am glad they listened to our views," said Calvin Ho Ka-yeung, the Baptist University student who was issued a warning letter and escorted to an MTR exit last month because his cello exceeded the luggage limit by 4cm. The incident sparked a protest by other musicians over the policy.
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Carrie Lo, a senior manager at the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, whose teenage son was also asked to leave a train for carrying a cello, said she was relieved by the announcement.
"My son had been anxious since his expulsion and now he can travel with his cello without fear," she added.
However, larger instruments such as 163cm guzheng and 183cm double bass, will not be allowed on MTR trains at all times. "Our risk assessment has determined it would not be prudent to accommodate instruments of a larger size," Li said. "We are a mass railway and can't serve just individuals and sacrifice the benefits of several million Hong Kong people".
Guzheng virtuoso Janet Chow said the ban on a full-size traditional zither would affect some 100 members of Zheng Music, an organisation she founded for young students.
"We rarely travel with our instruments and I hope they realise this and relax further after the trial period," she said.
Samuel Ferrer, an American double bass player with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, said the measure was "ridiculous", adding: "If they want to be anti-artist, this is the way to do it."
Laurent Perrin, a French cellist with the Hong Kong Sin- fonietta, said the issue of musical instruments in a subway "would not even cross the brain of the people in Europe".