Better ferries cited as way to ease tunnel jam

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 April, 2005, 12:00am

Bureau offers 12 options ahead of toll rise at eastern crossing

Improving ferry services is among 12 options proposed by the government to ease traffic in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and increase patronage of the other two more expensive tunnels.

In an apparent reversion to the 1960s when car-carrying ferries were the main cross-harbour mode for motorists, transport officials submitted the unusual idea ahead of the May 1 toll increase at the Eastern Harbour Tunnel.

Other proposals for the Causeway Bay tunnel include raising the tolls; imposing a 'congestion charge' during traffic jams and a peak-hour surcharge during rush hours; and offering a rebate, or a discount coupon, for central tunnel motorists to use at the other two tunnels.

Another option is to restrict certain types of vehicles. One example cited in the paper is to allow cars with odd and even number plates to use the tunnel on alternate days.

The 12 options to ease congestion are listed in a paper prepared by the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau at the request of lawmakers.

Officials said the options were all being studied but the government was not committed to any one of them at this time. There is no timetable for a decision.

'New passenger and vehicular ferry services may relieve the pressure on the tunnels,' the paper said. 'While ferries should theoretically be an alternative to tunnels for crossing the harbour, experiences show that ferry services may not be as attractive.'

It said many ferry piers were not close to population centres and the car-carrying capacity of ferries was limited. The option most likely to be favoured by the two commercial operators is joint ownership with the government to operate all three tunnels. The government owns and runs Cross-Harbour Tunnel at present. The paper said any option to be adopted must provide cost benefits to taxpayers and alleviate traffic congestion.

The bureau's options are: An increase in tolls on the central tunnel; a peak-hour surcharge; a surcharge and rebate scheme, variable toll adjustments; a toll increase at the central tunnel and reductions at the western and eastern tunnels; buying out the western and eastern tunnels; selling the central tunnel to holders of the other two tunnels; common ownership of all three tunnels; extending the two tunnel franchises as compensation for lowering their tolls; building a fourth tunnel; restricting the use of the central tunnel; and enhancing ferry services.