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Monday, August 13, 2018, 10:41
MTR should get with the times on XRL ticket sales; here’s how
By Ma Chao
Monday, August 13, 2018, 10:41 By Ma Chao

The majority of Hong Kong’s public was jubilant when the Legislative Council finally approved the bill on the co-location arrangement at the West Kowloon Station on June 14, and they eagerly look forward to the opening in September of the local section of the Express Rail Link connecting Hong Kong with neighboring Shenzhen and other cities on the mainland. 

While we are all excited with the imminent operation of XRL, which has been under construction for more than eight years, the released details of ticket prices and ways to purchase tickets were definitely a bummer. First of all, XRL fares revealed by the MTR are rather expensive: A single ticket to neighboring Shenzhen will cost HK$80, and one has to spend HK$260 for a single ride to Guangzhou — much higher than the current Through Train service, which is HK$210.

Even if the MTR could justify the high prices with the exorbitant construction costs of the railway and higher speed of services, the arrangements for ticket purchases are still disappointing. MTR has promised passengers may buy XRL tickets online through its website and mobile app. However, according to past practices, MTR would charge extra money for tickets bought online. For instance, a passenger must pay an extra HK$12 “reservation handling charge” for every Guangzhou-Kowloon Through Train ticket bought on the MTR website. In order to save money, sometimes I had to go to the Hung Hom Station to buy tickets. This surcharge really baffles me because people are actually helping the corporation to save labor costs when they buy tickets online instead of going to the counter. They should be offered a discount rather than surcharge! 

And it would be a bigger headache to buy mainland high-speed train tickets in Hong Kong. As the high-speed trains departing from Hong Kong will connect only 17 cities on the mainland, travelers to other destinations must transit at a mainland railway station and hence must buy mainland high-speed train tickets for the second leg of their journeys. MTR said there will be booths and machines at the West Kowloon Station to sell mainland train tickets, but with an extra service surcharge. Now the surcharge for a mainland train ticket is a pricey HK$100 for a seat or HK$150 for a sleeper at the mainland ticket booth in Hung Hom Station. If the surcharge remains the same, I doubt anyone would use it.

In the age of mobile internet, it seems anachronic that it would be a problem to buy mainland train tickets in Hong Kong. On the mainland passengers can conveniently buy train tickets from China Railway Corporation’s ticket-vending website and mobile app as well as various third-party apps without extra charge. However, the convenient service is not available for Hong Kong residents who possess neither a mainland bank account nor an Alipay and WeChat Pay account. It is indeed a great pity!

Hence, here are my suggestions to the MTR: 

First, lower the XRL’s fares. If the MTR can’t do this, it should at least offer discounts for off-peak hours and off-season days. This would also help increase the ridership of the high-speed rail line. 

Second, don’t charge extra fees for buying tickets online. In today’s age of e-commerce and e-payment, it is obsolete to collect a “reservation handling charge” for buying anything online. The MTR should keep up with the times.

Third, negotiate with China Railway to allow Hong Kong residents to use the mainland’s online ticket-buying system, perhaps through payment methods such as Alipay HK and WeChat Pay HK. Alibaba and Tencent would be more than happy to provide the service free of charge as it would significantly broaden their customer base in Hong Kong. 

If the MTR accepts these suggestions, it would create great convenience for the passengers, raise the ridership of XRL, and in turn benefit the corporation itself.

The author is an editor for China Daily Hong Kong.

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