Calls for relaxing MTR baggage rules for sports equipments

Music lovers play music at MTR station to vent out their anger over baggage rules.

By Ma Fung-kwok

Undeniably, MTRC train service is ranked top-notch with its 99.99 per cent punctuality and rare delays. It has been lauded for its safety, reliability and efficiency. But it is not flawless the railway company faces its challenges of accommodating millions of passengers daily. This poses a heavy burden for its management and repair work. Apart from increasing outbreak of rail track incidents, MTRS’s social responsibility is under question regarding its strict enforcement of baggage bylaws.

Last month public decries MTR attendants banning passengers of musicians, music students, athletes and martial arts practitioners carrying oversize musical instruments or sporting equipment from boarding on trains. Some called the dispute “a storm in a tea-cup”, avoidable and unnecessary, but was ignited by a photo of a school-uniformed student intercepted by three train attendants at Tai Wai station. Her anxious and panic expression drew massive public empathy.

After taking a review, the rail operator has promised to slightly relax the bylaws’ baggage rules provisionally by extending length limit to not more than 235cm in total while each side should not exceed 145cm. But the trial scheme does not extend to all large instruments like double bass and traditional guzheng. As more details were unveiled for the four-month trial registration scheme last Monday, resistance in the music community goes viral, calling for a boycott against the entire scheme.

Apart from musicians’ discontent over the rail company, sports organisations and athletes are agitated over the registration scheme which only applies to musicians and neglects the whole sporting community.

There is a big variety list of sporting goods and recreational equipment that falls into the category of baggage restriction. From golf sticks, snooker cue sticks, canoe paddle, martial arts swords, staffs and long poles. Even worse, some martial arts tools are sensitive like pointy or sharp swords. It is high time for the rail operator to take immediate action to pay heed to athletes and sports lovers’ needs.

Sports sector hopes to engage a similar understanding as the current understanding granted by MTR for bicycles riders by allowing them to carry their disassembled bikes with front wheel removed to be taken on board MTR lines and Light Rail trains. Some sporting equipment can be disassembled like bicycles but some cannot. For those one-piece sporting tools which are slightly exceeding the length limit, they should be granted discretion to be carried into trains.

Transports experts have expressed worries over the extra work pressure and confusion for railway staff for implementing the registration scheme. What counts is the clear instructions and sufficient training provided to all frontline train attendants to enforce the baggage rule with flexibility and tolerance.

Athletes, musicians and recreational lovers should enjoy same baggage rights

MTR systems should be helpful and accessible for all passengers. Athletes, musicians and recreational lovers should all be treated equal with the same right of access to the MTR systems as other passengers. Musicians and athletes are looking forward for enjoying hassle free on their subway and train rides that they will not get questioned or asked to leave the station by MTR attendants.

After weeks of controversy over the inconsistent, selective and bureaucratic enforcement of its bylaws, the MTR Corporation should revamp its bylaws enforcement. The company’s prompt action of launching a trail registration system of Oversized Musical Instrument Permit is welcomed.

Public engagement is an essential vehicle for settling controversies. It is essential to engage all stakeholders for a platform to have frank, direct and constructive discussion and seek for a resolution to the row. And different rules are applicable for different places. But there is no cure for all. We can only tailor-make and seek for a unique solution for our problem.

It is pressing to address the sports sector’s concerns and incorporate them under the trial registration scheme..

Undeniably, it is reasonable for MTR’s risk assessment taking a prudent stance to serve its prime concern of passengers’ safety. The workload and pressure of accommodating millions commuters is immense. But public transport service should be delivered in a people-oriented approach which helps to build up mutual trust among all stakeholders.

Despite all these hiccups and noises, an old but popular slogan in early 1980s propped onto my mind. “MTR is built for you”. It had helped to connect the subway service with the local community. Do you remember it?

This is an edited version of the RTHK’s Letter of Hong Kong, broadcast on Sunday, written by legislator Ma Fung-kwok, who represents the sports, cultural, performing art and publication sector.

Photo: Picture taken from DBC website




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