Hong Kong protesters have racked up a bill of over HK$10.5 million in property maintenance costs, and have damaged or vandalised 91 per cent of the city’s MTR stations during 22 weeks of unrest, the government has said.

Responding to a question from pro-Beijing lawmaker Kenneth Lau, the Secretary for Security John Lee said on Wednesday that, up until October 29, 85 of 93 MTR stations and 60 of 68 Light Rail stops have been damaged to some degree. Meanwhile, the Highways Department had incurred a cost of over HK$10 million in maintenance and replacement work, while the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) spent HK$0.56 million to reinstall 670 damaged litter containers, typically used by protesters to form makeshift roadblocks.

October 1 china extradition march
Photo: Studio Incendo.

Hong Kong has been shaken by five months of protests triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill which would have enabled fugitive transfers to mainland China. The movement has evolved into wider calls for democratic reform and accountability for the police’s handling of the crisis, among other demands.

From August onwards, protesters took aim at the MTR Corporation after accusing it of kowtowing to the government – its majority shareholder. Following pressure from state media, the transit firm began closing its stations ahead mass gatherings, making it difficult for crowds to leave.

Lee said MTR exits have been vandalised on roughly 1,600 occasions, with exits being set alight and flooded. Ticketing and other customer service machines have been targeted 960 times. Meanwhile, CCTV cameras were targetted 1,100 times; escalators 75 times; elevators 50 times; glass panels 1,069 times; and entrance shutters on 130 occasions.

September 15 china extradition
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

In an effort to bring parts of the city to a halt, protesters have taken to forming makeshift roadblocks using metal railings and other items, as well as damaging traffic lights and prising bricks from pavements to use as projectiles.

“The illegal blocking of roads in various districts also seriously affected public transport services and government services,” Lee said. “Rioters even set fires wantonly, damaged shops and hurled a large number of petrol bombs, posing serious threats to people’s lives and property.”

‘Enormous’ bill

The Secretary for Security said the MTR’s maintenance team has worked overnight to repair the damaged facilities.

John Lee
Secretary for Security John Lee. File Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“The cost of repair or replacement will be enormous, with the actual figures under estimation and verification,” Lee said.

Lee also said that from June until the end of October, there were:

  • 460 sets of traffic lights vandalised or tampered with, on 850 occasions;
  • 40 street lamps damaged;
  • Two 900 square metres of pedestrian blocks removed from footpaths;
  • 900 temporary plastic barriers missing;
  • 1,500 water-filled barriers missing;
October 20 mask ban china extradition protest
Photo: Studio Incendo.

Additionally, he said that leisure venues – including public swimming pools, sports centres, sports grounds and parks – have been temporarily closed on more than 1,900 occasions. And cultural venues – including performance facilities, museums and libraries – have been temporarily closed on more than 500 occasions over safety concerns.

Bus routes disrupted

Lee added that over 300 franchised bus routes, 300 green minibus routes, and all tram routes have been affected by the protests – resulting in vehicles either being diverted or halted prematurely.

“[A]ccording to Transport Department’s Monthly Traffic and Transport Digest, the average daily passenger journeys of franchised bus routes, green minibuses routes and tram routes have dropped to 3.9 million, 1.49 million and 127,000 in August 2019 respectively, comparing to 4.18 million, 1.51 million and 158 000 in May 2019, indicating a drop of 6.6 per cent, 1.5 per cent and 19.3 per cent respectively,” he said.

Since June, police have fired roughly 6,000 rounds of tear gas and arrested over 3,000 people – of whom over one third were students, according to the government.

october 6 hong kong island digger dig (1)
Photo: May James/HKFP.

The number of protest-related injuries remains unknown, however, multiple civilians have been severely hurt in the clashes including, most recently, a 22-year-old Hong Kong University of Science and Technology student who was left in a critical condition after he fell from a height near a protest.

Though the extradition bill was axed, demonstrators are demanding an independent probe into police behaviour, amnesty for those arrested, universal suffrage and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

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Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.