The MTR Corporation has come under fire after releasing a video last Thursday urging commuters with backpacks to be considerate of other passengers.

mtr backpack ad
The “Backpack Fighters” ad campaign. Photo: MTR video.

The video begins with a statement: “Everyone who uses the MTR is scared of backpack fighters.”

The “fighters” include people who hit other commuters with their daypacks as they move around, and those who block the way of others with their bags even if they remain still.

The video asks commuters to put down their daypacks in order to avoid causing inconvenience to other passengers.

mtr backpack
Photo: MTR video.

Heated debate

Critics accused the transport company of singling out people with daypacks. They questioned why it did not instead call out parallel traders – people buying goods in Hong Kong to resell in China, who often carry large suitcases and bulky goods on trains.

Political commentator Yip Yat-chee said the heart of the issue is that Hongkongers lack manners on the subway, such as not using earphones while watching videos on their phones, blocking the doors, and clipping their fingernails on trains.

“I seldom encounter people as depicted in the MTR video. I don’t think it is a serious issue, so why does MTR target backpack users instead of parallel traders or people with suitcases?”

parallel traders MTR
Parallel traders outside Sheung Shui station. File

An online commenter said: “First you made people turn against each other over priority seats, now it’s over backpacks.” Another wrote: “I need a daypack for work. It looks like I am wrong whether I move or not. And if I put down my bag [and hold it], my hands will be in an awkward position [close to people’s bottoms].”

A satirical page called on the public to carry large suitcases in the MTR in protest. It alleged that the company turns a blind eye to parallel traders, and hence people with suitcases would not be targeted.

Another Facebook page made an infographic, claiming that if the content of the “backpack” was parallel goods, it would be allowed on the train.

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Posted by 橄欖啜核 on Monday, 6 March 2017

Meanwhile, supporters said the campaign was well-intentioned. Some agreed that the issue of inconsiderate people with daypacks should be addressed.

“The campaign is asking you to be considerate, not banning you from using backpacks. Why are you talking about switching backpacks to suitcases? Stop dividing people,” one commenter said in response to the call for protests.

Frederick Ma Si-hang, non-executive chairman of the MTR Corporation, said on Tuesday that the ad campaign did not intend to upset the public. He called for tolerance to ensure a “comfortable” environment for all commuters.

tokyo metro manner
Tokyo Metro manner posters. Photo: Tokyo Metro.

There are similar ad campaigns in cities such as Tokyo and Vancouver, though they focus on large backpacks, rather than regular-sized bags as shown in the MTR video.

A spokesperson for the MTR Corporation told HKFP that some passengers asked the company to promote backpack etiquette. It considered overseas examples such as Paris, Japan and Singapore, which ran ad campaigns asking passengers to take off their backpacks.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.