Hong Kong’s embattled MTR Corporation rolls out fare concessions as it works to get reputation back on track

Cannix Yau
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Hong Kong’s embattled MTR Corporation rolls out fare concessions as it works to get reputation back on track

The MTR Corporation will roll out more fare concessions as part of efforts to rebuild its image after a wave of scandals and controversies.

Frederick Ma Si-hang, the outgoing MTR Corp chairman, said on Wednesday that discounts would be made available to early-bird passengers to ease rail congestion in peak morning hours.

Ma said the railway’s “Early Bird Discount Promotion” would be extended for one year to May 31, 2020, and that from October the discount would be increased to 35 per cent from the current 25 per cent.

The number of stations covered by the discount would also be increased to 44 from 35, with the nine additional stations from going from Lok Fu to Yau Tong, according to Ma.

Passengers exiting the participating stations between 7.15am and 8.15am from Monday to Friday are eligible for the discount.

Ma also said there would be a 3.3 per cent rebate for 40 weeks, until April 4, 2020, to commemorate the MTR’s 40th anniversary. He added that other fare schemes, such as MTR City Saver and monthly passes, would be unchanged.

“We hope that with the strengthening concessions for early birds, passengers will have more incentives to go to work earlier and it will ease the morning congestion,” Ma said.

Ma, who will step down in June when his contract ends, was speaking at the rail giant’s annual general meeting. He will be succeeded by Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen, head of the governing council at Lingnan University.

Jeny Yeung, the commercial director of MTR Corp, said the overall fare savings under the new promotion package would be more than HK$800 million (US$ 101.9 million), up from HK$500 million in the past year.

“In putting together the fare promotions, we have listened carefully to the views of different stakeholders,” she said.

Yeung said the 3.3 per cent rebate would negate the 3.3 per cent fare rise slated under a fare adjustment mechanism that would go into effect at the end of June. She pointed out there would be no actual fare increase for Octopus users until April 2020.

Yeung’s remarks were in response to critics who said the MTR did not deserve to increase fares because of a string of recent blunders.

The MTR’s reputation was damaged over scandals on the HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central rail link and its first ever crash in March during a trial run of a new signalling system. The collision led to an unprecedented suspension of service between two of the busiest stations on the network, Admiralty and Central, for 48 hours.

[T]he project management of the Sha Tin-to-Central link has not lived up to public expectation

Frederick Ma, outgoing MTR Corp chairman

Ma admitted the rail firm’s performance with the project had been disappointing, but stressed the board had taken active steps to improve.

“To be honest, the project management of the Sha Tin-Central link has not lived up to public expectations,” he said.

“The board has taken active steps to improve project management. We’ve hired project consultants to advise us how to improve our procedures.”

Roger Bayliss, the newly appointed MTR projects director, said one of the significant improvements was the use of digital tools to improve on-site supervision, adding consultants were pleased with the progress.

Jacob Kam Chak-pui, the chief executive of MTR Corp, said the company was still studying the feasibility of a partial opening of the section between Tai Wai and Hung Hom on the Sha Tin-Central link.

“The government hopes we can run a partial opening as soon as possible and between as many stations as possible. But we are still studying the options because it involves the adjustment of the signalling system. We haven’t made a decision yet,” Kam said.

MTR, a listed corporation, remained highly profitable despite the operational and construction fiascos. Its profit from underlying operations in 2018 increased by 7.1 per cent – to HK$11.26 billion – from the year before.

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