So when will MTR resume normal service hours?

November 04, 2019 18:35
Once the unrest shows signs of easing, MTR will possibly normalize train services in a step-by-step fashion, an MTR insider said. Photo: Bloomberg

Once known as “a city that never sleeps”, Hong Kong is no longer as vibrant and fascinating at night as before the outbreak of the anti-government protests. Many citizens are simply in no mood for nightlife these days.

After the anti-mask law came into effect almost a month ago, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) has begun to close its train services early, thereby imposing a de facto curfew in the city and dealing an even more shattering blow to the nightlife industry, including bars and restaurants.

Last week, lawmaker and Liberal Party chair Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who represents the catering functional constituency in the Legislative Council, lambasted the MTR for sticking to its decision to close train services early, noting that the measure is taking a severe toll on the business volume of restaurants and bars in the territory.

Many have questioned the rationale behind the MTR’s decision to end train services early, saying the measure has only caused inconvenience to citizens while hardly being able to prevent stations from being vandalized by radical protesters.

In early October, the MTR began to end its train services at 8 p.m. for a number of days in a row. Then later, the train operator gradually relaxed the restriction and pushed the service hours until 10 p.m., and then 11 p.m.

The MTR announced on Sunday that the service hours of all MTR Lines (except the Airport Express), Light Rail and MTR Bus would be further extended this week to 11:30 p.m., from Monday to Friday, but would be shut by 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday until further notice.

Roundtable lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, who is familiar with matters relating to MTR operations, said he had earlier lashed out publicly at rail operator for its decision to end train service hours early and asked that it resume normal train services as soon as possible.

In reply, according to Tien, MTR said it had to close early because vandalism against its facilities mainly took place at night. In other words, the later the MTR shuts down its stations at night, the more dangerous it gets.

However, Tien said that based on the recent pattern of vandalism by protesters, he believes train stations actually stand the highest chance of getting damaged during daytime on weekends.

That's why he doubts the wisdom of MTR closing its services early every night at the expense of the public interest.

As a matter of fact, an MTR insider agreed that Tien may have a point, adding that the company management has continued to assess the latest developments as far as the protest movement is concerned.

Once the unrest shows signs of easing, MTR will possibly normalize train services in a step-by-step fashion, the insider said.

Some stations that have been more seriously vandalized than others may be shut down early, or some of their exits may be closed early. But the bottomline is, MTR will try not to shorten normal service hours of its railway lines once the protests show signs of de-escalation.

Nevertheless, the source reckoned it would be hard for the rail operator to have all-night train services on “high-risk” occasions such as Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve like in the past.

At the same time, it would be difficult for the company to restore normal service hours if protesters inflicted damage extensively on MTR stations in the coming days, the source added.

As we see it, MTR is becoming a scapegoat in the current political storm.

The real issue which the government needs to address isn’t when MTR should end its shortened train services but why protesters are directing their anger at the rail operator, and how to get to the root of the problem decisively.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 1

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.