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LCQ3: Mass Transit Railway By-laws and Mass Transit Railway (North-west Railway) Bylaw

     Following is a question by the Hon James To and a reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (October 14):


     It has been reported that last month, some staff members of the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) disallowed a secondary school student carrying a guzheng to enter the paid areas and issued a warning letter to a university student riding MTR with a cello on the grounds that the lengths of the musical instruments they carried exceeded the luggage size limit. Moreover, MTRCL staff drove away a young man singing and playing the guitar on a footbridge outside Kwun Tong MTR station. According to MTRCL, the relevant site is a public area under MTRCL's management. Such incidents have aroused public concern as to whether the regulations under the Mass Transit Railway By-laws and the Mass Transit Railway (North-West Railway) Bylaw are reasonable and still suit the present circumstances. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows the respective numbers of verbal and written warnings issued by MTRCL each year since January 2012 to members of the public for unlawful acts committed in areas under its management, as well as the number of convicted cases and the relevant penalties, with a breakdown of such information by unlawful act (including carriage of musical instruments and sporting goods the sizes of which have exceeded the allowed limit as well as unlawful acts committed in the public areas outside MTR stations);  

(2) of the channel through which the public and this Council may monitor the reasonableness of the luggage size limit implemented by MTRCL, and the ways to find out and monitor the regulations concerning MTRCL's management of the public areas outside MTR stations and the areas under its jurisdiction; whether it knows the details of the guidelines issued by MTRCL to its staff for discharging the relevant duties, including whether or not its staff may exercise discretion; and  

(3) given that MTRCL submitted some 70 pages of draft amendments to the aforesaid two sets of bylaws to the Subcommittee on Matters Relating to Railways of this Council in June 2010, but it indicated in April last year that no amendment was necessary, whether the Government has reviewed the decision made by MTRCL last year, and whether it will request MTRCL to submit afresh to this Council proposals for amending the bylaws (including the regulations concerning the luggage size limit and the management of the public areas outside MTR stations)?



     My reply to the various parts of the Hon James To's question is as follows.

     Pursuant to Section 34 of the Mass Transit Railway Ordinance, the MTR Corporation Limited (MTRCL) may make by-laws for the purpose of prescribing the conditions relating to the use of its service.  By-laws made in this way are subject to the approval of the Legislative Council.  MTRCL may also, following the stipulations of the by-laws, promulgate detailed prescriptions on routine matters relating to train operations and conduct of passengers by way of notices.  These matters include restriction on size of luggage, areas within railway premises where entry of passengers is forbidden because of safety and where smoking is prohibited.  These arrangements allow the MTRCL to timely respond to community expectations in view of actual operational environment and passengers' needs.  Should the matters involved in the notices attract wide public attention, the MTRCL will conduct consultation and take heed to the views of the community, and receive monitoring by the public.  This has proved to be an effective arrangement that all along suits the operational needs of railway services.

     During the rail merger in 2007, the original by-laws which were respectively applicable to the ex-MTR and ex-KCR heavy rail systems were combined (i.e. the Mass Transit Railway By-laws), while Light Rail, because of its significant operational differences with the heavy rails, continued to adopt, largely, a separate set of by-laws as before (i.e. the Mass Transit Railway (North-west Railway) Bylaw).  The two sets of by-laws provide comprehensive and effective regulation to facilitate safe, reliable and efficient daily railway operations.  The MTRCL submitted to the Sub-committee on Matters Relating to Railways of the Legislative Council Panel on Transport in January 2009 and June 2010 proposals on amendments of the by-laws, including amendments to achieve consistency and enhance clarity (see Annex 1 for relevant areas), and reconciling different penalties.  At that time, the Sub-committee had not arrived at a clear position on the proposed amendments after heated discussion.  Views were especially diverse over the definition and scope of certain terms such as "abusive language" and "improper dressing" in the original provisions.  

     No further discussion was carried out on the amendment exercise by the Legislative Council.  Based on years of railway operations experience since the rail merger, the MTRCL concludes that, in general, the by-laws can effectively serve their purposes and no amendments are necessary.  Nevertheless, the Government and MTRCL will continue to listen to and consider any opinions of the Legislative Council as well as the general public, and review matters concerning safety and reliability of railway services in a timely manner.

     Oversized or excessively long objects might obstruct or trip passengers, prevent train doors from opening and closing, or even obstruct evacuation in times of emergency.  It will also be dangerous if these objects are too close to overhead lines.  The MTRCL has therefore formulated restriction on luggage size and set a limit (Note) to ensure safety of railway services and that passengers would not be affected.  The existing size limit has been adopted for years before the rail merger and was formulated having regard to factors including the design of stations and trains running on various railway lines as well as passenger flow.

     Enforcement of the luggage size limit is non-discretionary.  MTRCL explains that it is because the MTR network is so huge that it carries over five million passenger trips per day, and there are about 4 000 MTR staff members who may enforce the by-laws.  Authorising front-line staff to exercise discretion in enforcement will easily obscure the enforcement standards and lead to differential treatment that varies with individuals.  This will cause confusion and unfairness.  Nevertheless, the MTRCL mentions that the Corporation provides operational guidelines which set out the clauses of the by-laws and procedures to be observed by staff when handling passengers who breach the by-laws.  Generally speaking, frontline staff will give verbal advice in the first instance, and take enforcement action where necessary against persons who do not take the advice.  Figures on enforcement actions are at Annex 2.  The MTRCL does not maintain separate records on the numbers of verbal warnings given, penalties of convicted cases, and a breakdown by type of oversized and over-weight objects.

     In response to recent incidents where passengers carrying oversized musical instruments and sports equipment were prohibited from travelling on the MTR, there are public views suggesting that the MTRCL should relax the restriction so as to facilitate citizens (students in particular) to take part in relevant activities.   The MTRCL announced on September 25 that it would conduct a review of the size limit on personal objects allowed in the MTR network, followed by a public consultation exercise.  Yesterday (October 13), the MTRCL announced that a trial scheme would be launched within November this year.  Under the scheme, passengers may carry large musical instruments when travelling on the MTR during non-peak hours (including the time before 8.15am and most other operating hours) with prior registration.  The MTRCL will make appropriate arrangement to ensure that passengers are fully aware of the rules and matters which should be observed when carrying large musical instruments, hence minimising the safety risks.  The MTRCL is now working on the operational details and will make further announcement shortly.  Depending on the effectiveness of this trial scheme, the MTRCL will also consider exploring the feasibility of including large sports equipment in the trial scheme.

     The Government welcomes the MTRCL's decision and hopes that the new measures can meet passengers' reasonable needs, on the premise that the safety, reliability and efficiency of railway services can be maintained.

     Some MTR stations are linked with nearby buildings for the convenience of passengers.  The ownership of and management responsibilities for a particular pedestrian walkway (such as a footbridge or pedestrian subway) are subject to specific provisions in land lease and hence cannot be generalised.  Generally, MTR by-laws apply to any area which falls under the definition of "railway premises" provided by section 2 of the Mass Transit Railway Ordinance.  The land leases will set out the areas which are managed by the MTRCL.  According to MTRCL, station staff are required to familiarise themselves with the boundaries of areas managed by the MTRCL as part of their training.  Nevertheless, we agree that the MTRCL should strengthen the issuance of notices, with a view to facilitating passengers' better understanding of the areas managed by the Corporation.  As regards the case of a young person's guitar performance at a footbridge outside the MTR Kwun Tong Station mentioned in the Hon James To's question, the MTRCL has advised that the location concerned is part of the railway premises where the MTR by-laws apply.

Note: Each passenger may carry a piece of luggage or a hand-carried item with total dimensions (i.e. length, width and height) not exceeding 170cm, and the length of any one side not exceeding 130cm.

Ends/Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Issued at HKT 15:23


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