Mobile application company Pokeguide has accused the MTR Corporation of stealing its ideas and using them in the latest version of the MTR mobile app.

The new functions included one which tells passengers where on the platform they should board so they can alight nearest to their desired exit.

But the MTRC has said it noticed such functionality in an app for the New York subway in 2013, and has spoken to not just Pokeguide, but also other startup companies about potential cooperation.

MTR app “fast exit” function. Photo: Screenshot.

Pokeguide said they had a meeting with MTRC’s top executives last year about the suggestion, where they said they were willing to share their data on the most efficient boarding positions, if MTRC credited them in its app.

Another idea the company accused MTRC of stealing after the meeting was a function involving “beacons” which could be installed at stations to send information to passengers on train delays, news or shop discounts near the stations as they enter or exit.

“Why is that – when everyone in Hong Kong supports innovation and building a smart city – the MTRC did not use the opportunity to work with startups, but [instead] spent a whole lot of extra money to steal other people’s idea and do it themselves?” Pokeguide wrote in a Facebook statement.

Similar “fast exit” functionality is seen in other local apps such as MTRush – which predates Pokeguide – and Citymapper. Similar apps are also common for foreign mass transit systems such as the London Underground.

MTRush. Photo: Screenshot.

In response, the MTRC’s Customer Experience Development General Manager Annie Leung posted on its official Facebook page that the “fast exit” function was noted in a New York metro app in 2013, alongside other similar apps in Hong Kong. She said they were in talks with some of them, but decided to add the function to its own app after considering “the accuracy of the data and the direction of its development.”

Leung also wrote that the MTRC had received suggestions on the “beacon” function in 2015 – before meeting with Pokeguide in 2016. She said some large-scale infrastructure projects in Hong Kong, and the MTRC’s Telford Plaza mall, already made use of such functionality – before the MTRC sought to include it in its app.

“I am a rather traditional person, but I know that future development relies on young people,” Leung wrote. “I hope to work with more startups in areas including I.T. and social media. We will pay attention if there is room for improvement in communication.”


Meanwhile, Tango Chan, a former public relations officer for the MTRC, posted in his blog a screenshot of a MTRC internal app with the “beacon” function undergoing tests in 2015.

Chan also posted a screenshot of a proposed RFID-based navigation system for use inside stations to help visually impaired people – a project involving collaboration with external companies.

“In fact, MTR has worked with other companies,” he wrote.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.