23 February 2019
An MTR campaign on backpackers (left), has sparked a backlash from citizens who question people with oversized luggage. Photos: Facebook/mtrhk, HKEJ
An MTR campaign on backpackers (left), has sparked a backlash from citizens who question people with oversized luggage. Photos: Facebook/mtrhk, HKEJ

Why the MTR’s backpacker campaign misses the point

The MTR is targeting bad manners by passengers, especially those carrying backpacks. 

Recently, it launched a “Ride with Manners” campaign to discourage backpack users from blocking the way of other passengers. The campaign has gone viral on social media.

If you’re carrying a backpack, you’re asked to put it down to avoid hitting other passengers with it and to create enough space for them to pass.

A video of common forms of “misbehavior” by passengers accompanies the campaign.

Well and good, but some citizens are taking issue with the campaign, saying it is the wrong solution to a serious problem.

The problem, they say, is not backpacks but overcrowding on trains.

The MTR should improve its services first to ease the crunch before launching a campaign that is no more than a short-term fix for a longstanding issue.

Besides, some passengers are not taking too kindly to the insinuation that they need to be educated regarding how they should carry their backpacks.

The campaign, which has now been on for months, uses humor and entertainment to bring its message across but many people don’t find it funny.

They resent the fact that the MTR is quick to point the finger at backpackers including workers, students and ordinary travelers before looking at the problem from their perspective.

Many internet users have expressed their comments on various social networks. “What about the huge luggage carried by Chinese tourists?” they say.

Until now, many MTR campaigns have largely gotten a pass from the riding public.

Among these are those urging passengers not to block train doors or rush into compartments, to let passengers exit first and to move inside the compartment to make way for others.

All of these ignored the fact that train services have been grappling with overcapacity since Hong Kong opened its doors to Chinese tourists and parallel traders.

Train services at non-peak hours are just as crowded as those during peak periods.

Mothers with infants, pregnant women, the disabled and the elderly have to fight for space even if there is room allocated for them in a compartment.

The fact is that MTR’s capacity problem is causing the congestion rather than passengers’ belongings or manners.

Some experienced marketers say the whole campaign is wrong as it focuses too much on blaming people rather than incentivizing them. Netizens say it is discriminatory and misses the point.

They say it singles out backpackers while ignoring the Chinese tourists and parallel traders with bulky luggage.

Hong Kong scholar Wan Chin, who advocates localism, says Hong Kong people’s common space is being privatized by the government or organizations such as MTR Corp.

For example, MTR Corp. has been allocating more spaces for shops on its premises. At the same time, it has been removing seats in the trains to cater to an increasing number of passengers from the mainland.

Still, overcrowding persists and in some instances, it has been a cause of tensions, with fights erupting between passengers over space now and then.

If this new campaign is to succeed, it must tackle the problem at its roots. By the way, it doesn’t hurt to address mainland visitors as well.

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EJ Insight writer

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