Call for electronic toll to ease tunnel chaos

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 August, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 August, 2004, 12:00am

'Easy' system upgrade would help traffic flow more freely, says British expert

Removing the toll booths and adopting a free-flow electronic road pricing (ERP) system might ease congestion in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, a British transport expert advised yesterday.

Jack Opiola, director of integrated transport systems for Hyder Consulting in Britain and a former consultant to the government on the feasibility of electronic road pricing, said the idea was 'not magic' and could be implemented with ease.

'By making a free-flow tolling system, the congestion at the toll plaza could be reduced,' he said.

Speaking after a talk on electronic road pricing organised by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, Mr Opiola said toll booths were redundant and held up traffic.

'If you are going to use the Central [Harbour Crossing], take away the toll plaza and booths, and just have two lanes approaching the tunnel and through the tunnel, with multiple lanes at the back end,' he said.

Mr Opiola said traffic lights should be installed to regulate flows from different access roads.

'Merge those several roads into two lanes and it is pretty standard stuff. It is not magic and is easy to do,' he said.

With a daily average flow up to 120,000 cars, the Hunghom crossing is the busiest in the city. The government-owned tunnel charges only $20 for a private car, half that of the Western Crossing. The Eastern Crossing now charges $15.

Polytechnic University transport expert Hung Wing-tat, said Mr Opiola's idea was good but he was doubtful about its effectiveness.

'Without the booths, traffic would move a bit faster. But the real problem is not the way you pay. It is the bottleneck and capacity of the tunnel that limit the flow,' he said.

Apart from taking away toll booths and the plaza, Mr Opiola said electronic road pricing could also be applied in roads leading to and from the tunnel to balance the flow of the three harbour crossings.

In 1996, the government commissioned a $75 million feasibility study of electronic road pricing and a report was completed in 2001 after a series of on-site and off-site trials. But the government saw no transport or environmental needs to proceed with ERP at that time or before 2006.

Mr Opiola said ERP was workable in Hong Kong and estimated that traffic volume in the central business district could be reduced by 24 per cent if a daily charge of $80 was imposed on the busiest roads. He did not specify the roads.

However, he admitted that a successful scheme would also hinge on provision of free alternative roads like London's ring roads.

Mr Opiola said it would be more 'equitable and fair' to provide a free bypass such as the proposed Central-Wan Chai Bypass on the Central Reclamation site.

'I do believe a free bypass in an electronic road pricing system is necessary. I think the bypass will give you an east-west route from as far as the Western Tunnel all the way to the Eastern Tunnel,' he said.

An Environment, Transport and Works Bureau spokesman said the feasibility of ERP in Hong Kong was under review and it would refer to overseas experiences.