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Hong Kong’s MTR to ease rules on swearing and filming (but eating on trains still forbidden)

Hong Kong’s MTR to ease rules on swearing and filming (but eating on trains still forbidden)
Commuters on an underground MTR train in Hong Kong on July 18, 2016. Photo: AFP

Hong Kong’s MTR to ease rules on swearing and filming (but eating on trains still forbidden)

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s railway operator is proposing to show more tolerance towards passengers swearing on trains and lift a ban on filming with mobile phones under a long-overdue review of its decades-old by-laws.

Sources said the MTR Corporation’s plans were aimed at updating or scrapping obsolete rules to keep up with the times and “address the reality” as trains become more crowded due to both local commuters’ demands and the influx of mainland visitors.

At the same time, the MTR wants to maintain its ban on eating, drinking and carrying oversized luggage on trains, although exceptions will be made in special circumstances for passengers who genuinely need to hydrate while commuting.

The city’s biggest public transport operator is due to submit a paper to the Legislative Council soon outlining its proposed changes after sounding out lawmakers and frontline staff.

The railway firm has not reviewed its by-laws since they were combined with those of the former Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation when the two operators merged in 2007.

A key proposal is to relax curbs on abusive language, which would be limited to more offensive and malicious cases that might annoy or disturb passengers, one source said.

“There have been mixed views about this as it’s very common for passengers to blurt out expletives during private conversations. Some feel offended while many others may think this is just a form of expression,” the source said.

“Actually frontline staff often come across passengers who curse them. As long as the use of foul language doesn’t pose a threat or cause a disturbance to other passengers, they will be let off.”

Under the proposed changes, the penalty for swearing will be reduced to HK$2,000 (S$359) from the current HK$5,000, while people found hawking or posting bills on MTR premises will no longer face prison terms. The railway firm wants to repeal the offence of loitering as well.

The MTR also plans to scrap the offence of filming videos on railway premises, having decided it is obsolete in view of advanced mobile phone technology.

“The MTR by-laws should move with the times,” another source said. “When passengers can take videos with their mobile phones, we shouldn’t forbid this common activity.”

However, the MTR will not ease restrictions on eating and drinking on trains, which it says has become widespread. “Eating big fast-food breakfasts and drinking hot coffee is very common on morning trains. There are also cases of people eating mangoes and durians and drinking beer, so we can’t really relax this policy,” the source said.

Citing safety reasons, the MTR will also continue to enforce luggage size restrictions, but a special arrangement will remain for bringing sports equipment and oversized musical instruments on board trains, following last year’s backlash by musicians left high and dry.

The source said staff had come across many oversized and unwieldy items that posed safety risks to commuters. “Passengers have tried to bring in many bizarre items that were simply beyond imagination such as a Green Dragon Crescent Blade (replica sword) and long spears. Things like washing machines, refrigerators, big mattresses and wardrobes are also common,” the source added.

The MTR recorded 2,643 prosecutions over by-law violations in 2015, up from 1,030 in 2014. An MTR spokesman said a breakdown of statistics was not readily available to show how many passengers were prosecuted for abusive language, but recalled there were “not many” such cases every year.

Lawmakers will discuss the proposals on April 28. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST