A rare rebuttal from rail chief

Editorial | Mary Ma 12 Apr 2018

It was a bit out of character for MTR Corporation Ltd chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang to take aim at lawmakers over their constant criticisms of the quality of services provided by the railway.

That was a daring shout in view of the populist sentiment abounding in the political left and right.

Ma made his rumbling on radio a couple of days ago, lashing out at legislators and other detractors for always casting the MTR in a negative light - even though the company has been providing what's probably the best train service in the world.

The MTR head honcho is no stranger to media interviews, often appearing here and there to respond to brickbats. He's diplomatic most of the time, doing what's typical of a seasoned public administrator fully aware of the limits.

So, why did he act so boldly this time?

Perhaps he has had enough and is no longer willing to swallow criticisms that, in his opinion, was far from the truth. Or he may have thought he had gathered enough clout to stage a strike-back.

No matter what his motivation was, the call-out amounted to an interesting episode.

Equally amusing was the largely muted reaction from the critics. Lawmakers who had stabbed the rail operator most fiercely have yet to respond to the chairman's outburst. Was it because they had too much news to handle, so that they couldn't spare a moment to make a response?

Or was it because there's a grain of truth in Ma's remarks, making it unjustifiable to slash at the MTRCL further?

It's a matter of fact that overall, services provided by the corporation are among the world's best - if not the best -- only that many Hongkongers don't know it.

Throw in the 99.9 percent on-time performance record and the commitment to additional services during major festivals, and SAR residents should show even greater appreciation.

For example, in London, it can be a headache for locals if they have to travel on Christmas Day if they don't drive, as there's no public transport - including the underground. It's deemed to be an important moment for all families, including those of transport workers, being able to celebrate the festival and enjoy the Christmas feast together.

Also, it isn't uncommon for some sections of the network to be closed on weekends to give way to maintenance. Nearly perfect punctuality - 99.9 percent - would be just unheard of in the British capital.

Yet, Londoners seem to have few problems with the situation. Perhaps it's due to cultural differences, where anything with a reasonable need is acceptable. In the SAR, it would be utterly unthinkable if the MTR halted service on Lunar New Year Day!

However, it was naive of Ma to suggest inviting Hong Kong people to live in London or New York for a week to gain the experience first-hand.

Yes, undoubtedly many would then agree with him that our rail services are second to none.

But would a number of them be reluctant to return to the SAR after breathing the cleaner air over there?

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