MTR cuts ticket prices by half for weekend to compensate Hong Kong public over service failure, but lawmakers slam ‘petty favour’
- City’s railway operator estimates offer could benefit some 8 million people, with the firm bearing a cost exceeding HK$30 million (US$3.8 million)
- ‘Small token of gratitude’ criticised as inadequate for those affected during October 16 breakdown
Hong Kong’s sole railway operator is slashing its ticket prices by half this weekend to compensate the public for its worst service failure ever that inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of commuters for six hours earlier this month.
At a Legislative Council meeting on Monday, the MTR Corporation announced that adults travelling by train on November 3 and 4 would have the costs of their trips cut 50 per cent, while those already enjoying ticket discounts such as the elderly, children and students could enjoy a fare of HK$1 per trip regardless of travel distance.
“We are deeply sorry for the incident on October 16 and its impact on the public,” MTR operations director Adi Lau Tin-shing said, referring to the unprecedented service halt. “The ticket fare discount is a small token of our gratitude.”
The severe breakdown on four of the city’s rail lines – Island, Kwun Tong, Tseung Kwan O and Tsuen Wan – caused six hours of serious delays and commuter turmoil during morning rush hour on October 16. Preliminary findings showed the incident was caused by a system failure, ruling out blame on a signalling upgrade project, computer virus or sabotage.
Lau estimated the offer could benefit some 8 million people, with the operator bearing a cost exceeding HK$30 million (US$3.8 million).
But Legco members on Monday were unimpressed by the company’s offer, slamming it as a “petty favour”.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, a former chairman of rail operator KCR before it merged with the MTR Corp in 2007, said he did not understand why the company chose to roll out the offer over a weekend.
“Those who were affected that day were all workers, and now you compensate them by giving discounts on Saturday and Sunday,” Tien said.
He suggested the company instead offer a 20 per cent discount over five consecutive workdays.
Lawmaker Wilson Or Chong-sing, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: “What the public wants is not a petty favour. They just want you not to mess up their workdays.”
Lau explained that discounts on weekdays might lead to an increase in passengers.
“Our capacity is already running very high during rush hours on weekdays, so we considered a weekend relatively appropriate for the offer,” Lau explained.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan told the company to consider lawmakers’ views about revising the offer.
During the meeting, Or also criticised the penalty system for rail service failures as inadequate. He urged officials to review the system and return the amount of money the MTR is fined to the public.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan asked Chan to explain whether the operator would be penalised for one incident this time or four incidents due to the breakdown affecting four lines.
Lau said preliminary findings showed the longest delay during the incident lasted 114 minutes. If the company was penalised for one incident, he added, the fine would be HK$2 million.
The transport minister said the government would review whether the current system could reflect the severity of the incident. If the existing system was found to be inadequate to handle the incident, he added, officials would not rule out revising it.
He said the government would consider the punishment after an investigation panel submits its report on the incident in two months.
Under the existing service performance arrangement stipulated under the rail giant’s fare adjustment mechanism, the operator is to be penalised for any service disruption of 31 minutes or longer when the cause is a system breakdown.
The company faces a fine of HK$1 million per incident if a service disruption lasts between 31 minutes and an hour. A three- to four-hour delay would trigger a HK$5 million fine, and a further HK$2.5 million would be assessed for each additional hour.