Hong Kong’s high-speed rail operator mulls more flexible ticketing options

31 Jan 2019 by Jackie Chen
The new high-speed railway from Guangzhou to Hong Kong via Shenzhen

Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation is considering giving passengers using its Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link more flexibility by allowing them to buy open tickets without fixed departure times, according to local newspaper The Standard.

Passengers can now only book tickets for specific departure times and, if they miss that train, they have to buy a new ticket.

MTR Corporation also advises passengers to arrive at the West Kowloon Station at least 45 minutes beforehand for ticket collection, identity and security checks, and to clear immigration and customs. Ticket sales also close 45 minutes before departure.

But the MTR Corporation is also considering allowing passengers to arrive later at the station if their journey is less than one hour.

The proposed system would only cover short-haul journeys between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Currently, it takes around 14 and 19 minutes to arrive at Shenzhen’s Futian and Shenzhen North stations respectively by high-speed rail, compared with about 55 and 60 minutes from Tsim Sha Tsui to the two cross-border stations Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau by MTR.

The Standard’s Chinese-language sister paper, Sing Tao Daily, reports that the MTR Corporation has not been satisfied with the amount of passengers travelling short-haul journeys between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and is therefore studying measures to attract more passengers to take the high-speed rail between the two cities. After the official launch on September 23, 2018, West Kowloon Station received over five million passengers in 2018, according to statistics from the Census and Statistics Department.

An MTR Corporation spokesperson declined to confirm the plan when contacted by Business Traveller Asia-Pacific, saying only that it has been in “close contact with the railway authorities in China, and has been reviewing current arrangements regularly.”

If implemented, these moves would be a boon to time-pressed business travellers taking the high-speed rail from Hong Kong to Shenzhen or Guangzhou. Business Traveller Asia-Pacific has previously published a guide on how to take the high-speed train from Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Station.

However, there are some potential problems with the proposed plans. During peak travel times, there may not be enough seats on trains to accommodate all passengers holding flexibly timed tickets.

Merging mainland and Hong Kong ticketing systems

The newspapers also reported that MTR Corporation is considering merging the separate ticketing systems in Hong Kong and mainland China with a final goal of using only the larger mainland system. Passengers can now buy tickets via MTR’s official website, or the mainland’s website and its mobile app.

From 27 December 2018, passengers from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan (holders of PRC Exit/Entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao or Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents) have been able to sign up on without the need for a valid mainland phone number or having their identity documents checked in a mainland station before ticket collection, making the process notably more convenient for these passengers.

However, there are still some technical problems to be fixed before the final merging. For example, is not available in English yet. What’s more, passengers cannot purchase train tickets using Hong Kong dollars when on the mainland.

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