Buyers face payment hiccups as hundreds queue up for high-speed rail tickets in HK on first day of sale

11-Sep-2018 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

More than 300 people were standing in line for tickets to the first high-speed trains departing from Hong Kong by the time they went on sale at 8am on Monday, with some of them later encountering various hiccups when buying.

Members of the public had waited for as long as two full days at Austin MTR station in Kowloon for a chance to travel to and from 30 mainland Chinese cities on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, starting from September 23.

Each person could buy up to eight tickets after presenting proper ID and travel documents issued by mainland authorities.

About 1,200 tickets were sold before noon, although some buyers complained that various payment methods did not work properly and that it took them about 10 minutes to buy a single ticket. When the tickets were issued, some buyers found errors with their names or the dates.

Retired civil servant Leung Shing, 72, was the first non-media person in the queue, though there were dozens of reporters ahead of him. He had been waiting since dawn on Saturday to buy eight tickets for round trips to Shenzhen North for four people on the high-speed rail link’s first day of commission.

“I don’t know what is so great about the express rail link, but I want to try it,” Leung said. “I have never travelled on a high-speed train, and it’s the first in Hong Kong.”

Leung said he did not have plans for what to do when he arrived at Shenzhen North, but he believed the trip would broaden his horizons.

“My family says I am a fool [to queue for such a long time],” he said. “But I think it’s worthwhile, because I won’t be able to buy tickets for the first train otherwise.”

By 11.45am, more than 800 people had entered the rail link’s West Kowloon terminal via Austin MTR station, as large parts of the facility were not yet in use. More than 1,200 tickets had been sold at that time, according to MTR Corporation operations director Adi Lau.

“We found the operation this morning smooth in general,” he said. “But we also found some problems in our review, including that our new system is still running in, our staff are not completely familiar with the system, and that one passenger may be buying tickets for a number of others, all of which may make service time longer than expected.”

Not all buyers agreed. Salesman Tonny Chan, who called the ticketing system “not totally ready for service”, said it took him about four hours from 6.40am to 10.45am to get a one-way ticket on the first high-speed train from West Kowloon to Shenzhen North on September 23.

“When it was my turn, I was told that they could not take my credit card via PayPass, or mobile payment with my Apple Pay,” he said. PayPass allows a Visa cardholder to make a purchase by tapping their card on a palm-sized sensor.

Chan ended up using his debit card.

Payment issues aside, Chan, a rail enthusiast, said he would be late for work because of the long queue time.

“MTR sent a lot of staff to help, but they had no idea how to put people with different needs into different queues,” he said.

A couple surnamed Lo left the terminus angrily at about 11.15am, six hours after they arrived at Austin station. They were No 121 in the queue.

“Hong Kong is not fit for running a high-speed rail. The training for staff is simply not effective,” said the husband, in his 40s.

It took the pair four attempts to get the correct tickets.

“The first time, they got a name wrong. The second time, they got the dates wrong. The third time, they mismatched the names,” he added.

A reporter from the Post was No 8 in line and took 40 minutes at one of the 28 manual counters to buy five one-way tickets two to Shenzhen North and three to Guangzhou South on the first trains on September 23.

Staff said tickets for different seat classes had to be bought separately, even for the same train. Payment by PayPass failed once and UnionPay was rejected, although payment via debit card, Alipay and WeChat Pay succeeded. Throughout the ticketing process, employees continually apologised for being unfamiliar with the system and for the payment failures.

Automatic ticketing machines were located at another end of the departure hall, but only two machines could take cash, while the remainder accepted payment by card only. A maximum of HK$1,000 was allowed for each transaction, meaning most long-haul tickets could not be purchased.

Although the MTR Corp said last Friday that only advance tickets from September 23 to October 2 would be available, tickets to and from several mainland cities, including Beijing, between October 3 and 10 were for sale on the machines.

When asked if there had been an error in the announcement, Lau said the system could display tickets for 30 days starting from Monday, but the company wanted to avoid attracting too many passengers eyeing tickets for the October 1 National Day holiday on the first day of sales. An MTR spokesman added that the October 2 limit was announced as an “administrative measure” for mass control.

Lau did not respond to inquiries regarding the payment failures.

The operations director said the MTR Corp was looking into whether residence permits for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan residents on the mainland could be also read by the ticketing machines, in addition to the two currently accepted: the travel permit to the mainland for Hongkongers and the second-generation ID for mainland residents.

Rolled out in mid-August by the mainland public security authority, the residence permit will carry an 18-digit code following the same standard as the mainland citizen code. The permit also promises its holders access to 18 public services and facilities available to mainlanders, including speedy boarding of the high-speed trains on the mainland. Applications for the permit opened on September 1.

The express rail link is expected to connect the city to a total of 44 destinations on the mainland, across 30 cities, and is intended to be a key piece of cross-border infrastructure providing a boost to the city’s economy and its status as a logistics hub.

But the 26km Hong Kong section of the link opened three years after it was scheduled to. At a cost of HK$84.4 billion (US$10.8 billion), it is over its original budget by a third.

The cross-border link also faces an ongoing controversy over its “co-location” immigration arrangement, under which a port area inside the line’s West Kowloon terminus is under the complete jurisdiction of mainland Chinese authorities, except for six “reserved issues”, including maintenance of the terminal and safety of the local section of the link.

Critics are concerned that mainland authorities will thus be enforcing national laws on Hong Kong soil, saying the arrangement is in breach of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.


Category: Hong Kong

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