Hong Kong’s MTR has reminded frontline staff to seek help from the police and avoid all physical contact with passengers, after a staffer was seen kneeling on the neck of a reportedly mentally disabled passenger who resisted having his ticket checked.

Yau Tsim Mong District Council.
Yau Tsim Mong District Council. Photo: Owan Li via Facebook.

The 21-year-old man was stopped by MTR officers at Heng Fa Chuen Station in mid-April after he was spotted using a discounted Octopus card. The man resisted having his card checked and injured five officers, local media reported. The officers subdued him by pressing the man to the ground, videos taken by eyewitnesses showed.

The man was reportedly in possession of identification documents for people with disability and was using a discount card for the disabled.

An MTR representative attended a Yau Tsim Mong District Council transport committee meeting on Thursday after District Councillor Ben Lam submitted a written question seeking a response from the company over the incident.

The company took the incident seriously, according to the representative Jacky Chan, but he did not respond to questions about specific guidelines on use of force.

“Kneeling on somebody’s neck could be fatal. Does the MTR have any guidance for its employees… such as prohibiting the act of kneeling on somebody’s neck?” Andy Yu, Yau Tsim Mong District Council chairman, asked.

“The safety of our passenger and our staff are amongst our top considerations. If passengers resist having their tickets checked, they [staff] should immediately call the police and avoid physical contact,” said Chan, adding that staff had been reminded of the policy.

hang fa chuen mtr station altercation
Photo: Video screenshot via Facebook.

“The company is highly concerned about this incident… we reviewed it immediately,” Chan said. “It’s not ideal in terms of optics for our passengers. We will reinforce their training.”

The company also consulted groups that support mentally disabled people to help train their staff to identify whether a passenger in distress is disabled or has other special needs, he said.

Use of force by MTR staff

The MTR by-laws empower its staff “to remove (if necessary by the use of reasonable force) from the railway premises” anyone suspected to have violated or attempting to violate the railway company’s rules.

hang fa chuen mtr station altercation
Photo: Video screenshot via Facebook.

District Councillor Lee Kwok-kuen said he was “bewildered” that subway employees are empowered to use force on passengers in ways similar to the police.

The district councillors also pressed Chan on the number of retired police officers and auxiliary police the MTR employs amongst those frontline staff tasked with enforcing rules, and how they would be trained to deal with passengers who resist their requests.

MTR staff are hired through a standard recruitment process not based on a single factor, Chan said, adding he had no figures on the number of staffers with a police background.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.