It’s hard to imagine a metropolis as densely populated as Hong Kong without a top-notch public transportation system. But 35 years ago, that was the case. Enter MTR (Mass Transit Railway), now the backbone of the city’s transit network. It’s an incredible urban success story: Today, 90 percent of all passenger trips in Hong Kong are on public transportation. And MTR transports more than five million passengers a day, with a 99.9 percent on-time rate.
Behind the scenes, MTR is always at work maintaining trains and stations, providing better services and monitoring conditions that threaten to slow the system, from typhoons to traffic. Using custom and third-party apps on iPhone and iPad, employees can respond more quickly to urgent service issues and provide passengers with instant information.
“When the railway opened, it connected Hong Kong in ways people couldn’t imagine,” says Jay Walder, CEO of MTR Corporation. “The trip that took one or two hours now takes only 30 minutes.”
As MTR continues to integrate the most current iOS technologies into its operations, it’s able to offer customers even faster, safer service. “We want to be even more tightly connected to the Hong Kong community,” Walder says. “And we see iPhone and apps as a way to do that.”
To keep up with Hong Kong’s growing transit needs, MTR is building new rail expansions such as the Shatin to Central Link project, which will connect several existing lines and reach areas that currently lack service. The company also builds housing, shopping malls, and office buildings around its stations.
Some of the most useful tools for communication on MTR’s construction sites are iPhone and iPad apps. One example is ePMS, an in-house project management app that lets engineers use iPad and iPhone to quickly check plans, specs, and budgets, report to other groups, and respond to documents from contractors while still onsite.
Many of these processes once required thick folders full of papers, which could easily get separated, lost, or damaged in a construction environment. “They had to print all these things out to read them onsite,” says Ted Suen, who heads MTR Corporation’s IT department. “But now project staff and contractors can download and refer to the latest information and regulations right on their mobile devices.”
Other in-house apps are designed to keep construction zones safer. The Project Safety mobile app outlines safety techniques, provides useful tips and alerts, and raises safety awareness among staff and contractors.
Ted Suen, Head of Information Technology, MTR Corporation
The railway also uses iPhone and iPad to respond to emergency situations such as an approaching typhoon. “Everybody in Hong Kong relies on the railway,” Walder says, “but occasionally problems do occur. We’re working to communicate what’s going on, and technology is a big part of that. iPhone and iPad have become integral to our strategy.”
When potentially hazardous situations develop, the railway’s 60-person Customer Service Rapid Response Unit snaps into action, offering updates to commuters and helping them find nearby resources. Each team member is equipped with an iPad loaded with custom apps such as the CSRRU Manual, which outlines emergency relief procedures and offers details on each of the railway’s 84 stations.
“In the past, the Rapid Response Unit had to carry a trailer-load of paper to respond when passengers asked for guidance,” says Cheris Lee, Operations Manager of the East Rail Line, Ma On Shan Line, and the Intercity Passenger Service. “Now all they need to carry is an iPad.”
Before iPhone and iPad, Rapid Response Unit members were contacted over the phone, which takes time in potentially urgent situations. Now they use Apple’s Find My Friends app for iPhone and iPad to locate nearby staff and resolve issues as quickly as possible.
Rapid Response Unit team members also turn to MTR Mobile, a free customer information app for iPhone and iPad, to keep commuters updated. And the railway has developed several other publicly available iOS apps to keep its Hong Kong customers in the loop, including journey planners, real-time updates on the next arriving train, and tourist guides.
One popular feature on MTR Mobile is a traffic news feed that notifies passengers about special train service changes. “It enables us to send information to passengers in a very timely manner,” says Suen. “When there’s a typhoon coming, we can sometimes alert passengers even before the media.”
The railway relies on iPhone and iPad to address routine issues as well. Employees use MTR’s iSPOTit app to flag everything from minor maintenance tasks to potentially hazardous conditions. The app also lets managers track these issues to resolution.
“Before we launched iSPOTit, whenever our staff saw some minor fault they’d have to fill out a form and submit it to the appropriate department,” Suen says. “Now they can easily use their mobile device to take a photo, add some remarks, and send it. We can act faster and work more effectively, and it enhances communication between different departments.
MTR’s maintenance technicians also use WhatsApp Messenger, a third-party messaging app, to collaborate via iPhone and report back on their tasks throughout the workday.
“iPad and iPhone save us a lot of time by making communication more efficient,” Lee says. “We can send texts or photos to each other in real time, so we can react instantly. We’re able to deal with situations quickly, and we aren’t bound to our desks. We can accomplish more in the same timeframe, and we have more time to work with our passengers and coworkers.”
Cheris Lee, Operations Manager, MTR Corporation
MTR chose iPhone and iPad for many reasons, including ease of use, stability, and the huge array of useful third-party apps available in the App Store. But the deciding factor was the security of the iOS platform.
“We have very stringent requirements for protecting corporate information,” Suen says. “iOS provides a more secure architecture for local storage than other platforms. iPhone and iPad also have hardware encryption features, which is one of the reasons we chose these devices.”
MTR supports employee-owned iOS devices through its “bring your own device” (BYOD) program. The railway uses mobile device management (MDM) software to manage access to corporate information on employees’ devices. “We launched the MDM policy and the BYOD policy together,” Suen explains. “We encourage people to bring their own devices, but if they want to access corporate information, they have to register under the MDM policy.”
At this forward-thinking railway, iOS devices and apps are the key to fast, efficient systems for better emergency response, construction management, maintenance, and passenger information. “Innovation is one of the things we always encourage at MTR,” says Suen. “We are finding new internal efficiencies and working more effectively with iPhone and iPad.”
iPhone and iPad help MTR connect the people of Hong Kong not just physically, but through essential updates and resources that keep both staff and passengers on course.
“We have integrated the most modern technology into our railway, and we continue to refresh it,” Walder says. “We build long-life railways. We build long-life assets. We build the community. iPhone and iPad are part of our journey, and I think that’s terrific.”
- ePMS helps construction teams manage projects with remote access to drawings and designs, contract and budget information, and team discussions.
- Project Safety provides safety checklists, safety hot topics, specifications, and techniques for staff and contractors.
- iSPOTit allows staff to instantly report maintenance issues and potential safety hazards in stations and on trains.
- CSRRU Manual gives the Rapid Response Unit portable access to relief procedures and station information.
- MTR Mobile offers MTR passengers a one-stop resource for journey-related information and instant traffic news.
- Find My Friends quickly locates Rapid Response Unit members.
- View all consumer apps from MTR in iTunes