Time to end mishaps on a profit-focused MTR
On Monday evening I boarded the MTR at Kwun Tong Station as usual, heading toward North Point and changing at Yau Tong Station. The train did not move because, as has been usual in the past few years, there was a signal-system failure ahead. Nobody paid much attention as MTR stoppages like this are becoming more prevalent by the day. Most passengers were rather tired after work and they have their mobile phones to pass the time.
About 10 minutes later we were told to alight from the train. We all did as told, the train went away. Another soon arrived and we all squeezed in. The door closed behind us but the train remained stuck for 10 more minutes before it started moving again. It soon stopped again, packed full of passengers, trapped in the middle of the cross-harbor tunnel.
The air soon became very stuffy with obvious oxygen depletion. An elderly woman sitting next to this geezer looked very uncomfortable. When asked she told me she was hungry and overdue for her medication. She was pale and breathing heavily but there was simply nothing we could do.
The next 20 minutes or so felt like eternity but everybody was calm and quiet. Maybe many of us are used to such mishaps in the MTR though this particular one was just a bit too long.
When the train finally arrived at Quarry Bay Station, as if on cue, practically all passengers left the train and made their quiet and orderly way to the Island Line. But as I gathered later, the problem was not fixed yet after more than half an hour. My wife wanted an update on the situation but this could not be found on the official MTR website.
The signaling problem has been there for at least three years now and it seems to worsen by the day. This is totally inexcusable, especially for the MTR which used to be the pride of this city. A resulting stoppage for more than half an hour is on the verge of being obscene.
People are becoming used to it because, as with other infrastructure in Hong Kong which used to outclass the entire region, the MTR is now in decay. For example, an exit counter at Ngau Tau Kok Station has been broken for more than a year now but the MTR does not care to change or fix it. Such eyesores were not supposed to exist in the past.
The management does not seem to care anymore because, in line with neo-liberal philosophy, as long as it can make a good profit for its shareholders — the majority shareholder being the special administrative region government — it is OK. Ever since the MTR went public, its service went south. Stoppages like the one I just experienced are becoming more frequent and lasting longer.
Its stations, which used to be neat and tidy, are now very often littered with wall-to-wall advertisements some of which are very sexually explicit. I don’t know how parents can explain the contents to their school-going children — perhaps this is a way for them to have a head start in early sex education.
The railways and stations are still built with tax-payers’ money without the MTR bearing any responsibility. As a result there are constant delays and cost overruns, with us grudgingly footing the bill and the government taking the blame.
Now we have had about enough, and more and more people are calling for the government to re-nationalize the MTR, gearing it toward serving the people with high quality as its mission instead of just making more money for investors. Our government is now in fact subsidizing MTR shareholders; why not subsidize passengers instead? Don’t talk to me about money, as this is one thing our government is glaringly not short of.
Ironically railway services on the mainland are set to become privatized amidst much controversy; I suggest they send a team here to see what has happened after privatization before they make any serious decisions. I am sure they don’t want to repeat the same mistakes we have made here.