Time to end mishaps on a profit-fo­cused MTR

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - Lau Nai-ke­ung The au­thor is a veteran cur­rent af­fairs com­men­ta­tor.

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.

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