TAIPEI, Taiwan – The Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) is considering a series of measures including train announcements and change of upholstery material after almost all of the headrest covers were stolen from a special Hello Kitty-themed train on its maiden trip on Monday, March 21.
The TRA expected some of the specialised headrest covers painted with pictures of the Japanese cartoon character to be taken, but the extent of loss was far beyond their estimation, the railway operator said on Tuesday. A tally after the Taroko Express train returned from its Taipei-Taitung round trip on Monday showed that 328 (of the total 376) headrest covers had gone missing, presumably nabbed by passengers as souvenirs. The railway operator currently has around 2,000 spare headrest covers in stock.
While the monetary loss was limited (the TRA estimated the cost to be NT$16,400 (S$690), the incident has been billed by the media and the local blogosphere as a testament to the lack of civic awareness in Taiwanese society. A train engineer reportedly denounced the headrest-cover-nabbing passengers’ lack of civic-mindedness. Meanwhile, a train buff who posted a photo on Facebook of himself holding a headrest cover has claimed that he only used the cover as a prop but had not taken it home.
Civic awareness of tourists has been one of the most discussed topics in the public sphere in recent years as the opening of Taiwan to cross-strait tourism had lead to frequent media reports on the presumed rude or uncivilized behaviour of some mainland Chinese tourists.
The Hello Kitty train is a cooperative project between the TRA and Sanrio, the Japanese company that holds the rights to the cartoon character, to mark the 90th anniversary of the Hualien-Taitung train line. A Taroko Express train was modified with a Hello Kitty paint job and Hello Kitty-themed interior design. The next trip of the train is slated for March 25.
The TRA is considering a series of measures to deter further theft of train property.
The operator said it has begun discussion with Sanrio on changing the material of the covers from the more durable and reusable polyester fiber to non-woven cloth to reduce potential loss as well as the desirability of the covers. The TRA is also in talks with the Japanese company for the rights to launch a series of napkins featuring the same designs as the headrest covers.
In addition, the railway operator is planning to tape train announcements appealing to the civic awareness of future passengers.