After $75m study, officials conclude there is no need to impose charges for at least 5 to 10 years

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2001, 12:00am

Plans for an electronic road pricing system have been shelved after a four-year, $75-million study rejected the system on environmental and transport grounds.

The Transport Department said there was no justification for ERP - which would force motorists to pay for use of the busiest roads - for at least the next five to 10 years, while the Environment and Food Bureau said the priority should be on measures to reduce vehicle emissions.

'One of our key transport objectives is to ensure a smooth flow of traffic on our roads,' Commissioner for Transport Robert Footman said yesterday. 'Over the past five years, the average growth of the private vehicle fleet was around three per cent, while the average peak-hour traffic speeds on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and in the New Territories were maintained at 20km/h, 27km/h and 41km/h respectively.'

The study adopted 20km/h as a benchmark for the peak-hour traffic speed and applied high and low car growth scenarios (of six per cent and two per cent) to forecast traffic speeds between now and 2011, Mr Footman said.

The study established projected traffic speeds during peak hours on Hong Kong Island of 17.8 to 19.7km/h in 2006, rising to 20.6 to 23.9km/h in 2011.

'From the forecast, the study concluded no additional restraint measure, such as ERP, would be required before 2006 at the earliest,' he said.

'This is because the traffic speeds before then would be reasonably near the benchmark of 20km/h, and these would increase above the benchmark after 2010 with the completion of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass.'

If private growth remained around three per cent a year, traffic speed should be comparable with the benchmark, he said.

The commissioner said public money used for the study had been well spent. 'I think it was something we needed to do to safeguard against a possible adverse traffic situation.'

Legislator Lau Kong-wah welcomed the decision and said he felt from the outset that ERP was not an effective remedy for traffic congestion.

'For example, in Central and Wan Chai, we have a very limited choice of roads we can use for journeys,' he said. 'If the Government were to charge for the use of one of the busier roads, the traffic would simply divert to other roads and lead to congestion there.'

Mr Lau said the Government had a lot of explaining to do about the use of public money to study a system that was strongly opposed by most people.

But Professor Tony Eastham, acting director of the transportation institute at the University of Science and Technology, said he was still a proponent of ERP, claiming it would help to inhibit the growing number of cars.