Hong Kong rail chief Frederick Ma Si-hang on Wednesday vowed to keep costs down for high-speed rail passengers heading for smaller mainland Chinese cities, but said he could not guarantee his efforts would bear fruit.

The MTR Corporation chairman said after the company’s annual general meeting that he would try his best to negotiate with the mainland rail operator to reduce the service fee that passengers would need to pay if buying tickets in the city.

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“We will try our very best in this regard. But I hope people will understand that, due to some systemic problems, sometimes no matter how hard we try we may not be able to resolve it,” he admitted. 

Ma caused an upset on May 6 when he said passengers heading for destinations requiring a change at Guangzhou South station would have to get off there to buy a ticket for their onward journey.

MTR Corp, the operator of the Hong Kong section of the cross-border rail, would only sell tickets for four short-haul and 14 long-haul destinations on its network, such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing.

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But the Transport and Housing Bureau later said a mainland ticket operator could set up at the line’s West Kowloon terminal. Ticketing booths and machines could be set up, but the operator would charge an extra service fee, it said.

Subsequently, MTR Corp’s chief of operations, Francis Li Shing-kee, said it was trying to see if there were ways to reduce the surcharge.

The surcharge issue, together with MTR Corp’s admission on Monday that Hong Kong-Guangzhou journeys on the HK$84.4 billion cross-border rail link could take longer than the promised 48 minutes if they stop at more stations along the route, caused concerns that people would be less keen on using the line.

The much-heralded service is set to open to the public in the third quarter of the year.

Tickets for the journey are expected to cost about HK$260 (US$33), higher than the HK$210 charged for the current two-hour service.

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On Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she hoped the surcharge for trips outside the city’s high-speed rail network would be reduced and the government would weigh in on the matter if necessary.

Ma responded by saying: “The chief executive has expressed her views about the surcharge … We will try our best to provide greater convenience for passengers. I don’t think the issue will affect the efficiency of the high-speed rail service.”

A group of about a dozen demonstrators had gathered outside the annual meeting, making several demands including building public housing above MTR stations.

Ma said that idea was “the government’s call” and not decided by MTR Corp.

 

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