talk back

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 May, 2005, 12:00am

Q Should the bun festival be extended to run all year?

I remember that over the past decade bun scrambling was very popular among local people. But then it was banned by the government, which said it was a very dangerous activity, after a tower collapsed, injuring over 100 participants.

Although safety does come first, no matter what happens, was it really necessary for the government to ban it because of one accident? Should the government of Thailand ban visitors from going near the sea because of the tsunami?

It takes time to get over such incidents and many things carry a risk, but that shouldn't be the main reason to stop the whole thing.

Tragedy may happen in so many places. But after a decade of introspection, the government has taken measures to ensure the safety of the structure. With the safety aspects taken care of, this could be a major contribution to the economy.

Danyi Xue, Hunghom

Q Which tunnel options would be most effective?

Here are some options for the tunnels as tried and tested elsewhere.

Ban trucks from using the Central tunnel between 7am and 9am and between 4pm and 7pm.

If Beijing's city government can ban trucks from crossing the 4th ring road and entering the city during the day, I am sure Hong Kong can follow suit and allow trucks into Hong Kong Island only at certain times of day.

Alternatively, consider a High Occupancy Vehicles scheme - HOV lanes for cars with two or more passengers or encourage car pools by charging more for cars with a single driver.

Ultimately, the government should just charge the market rate for the tunnel. This has been set by the other two tunnel operators.

John Murray, Wan Chai

I write to elaborate on my letter printed in this column on May 5 which was unfortunately edited to omit its key point. The government can negotiate with the Eastern tunnel and Western tunnel to 'buy' the pricing rights by paying or guaranteeing them 100 per cent of their respective 2004 revenue for, say, a year plus a percentage to be negotiated, according to this formula (100+X) per cent. The government can then try out pricing schemes on the three cross-harbour tunnels to rationalise the flows, by narrowing, equalising, or even reversing the present prices.

This will be an experiment which carries minimal financial risk, while being practical and can be easily implemented. Western Harbour Tunnel and Eastern Harbour Tunnel operators will have few reasons to refuse a proposal that cannot hurt their revenue.

There is a lot of capacity reserve in those tunnels that can be more beneficially used by a clever pricing mechanism.

With Autotoll very fine-tuned or even time-dependent, pricing can be done without any technical difficulty.

Ken Mo, Castle Peak Road

The recent huge toll increases at the Eastern tunnel have created a big public outcry. Our government has not done enough to put pressure on operators New Hong Kong Tunnel Company to lower the new toll charges.

The tunnel operator rightly expects that over time, citizens will get used to the higher tolls and the initial reduction in crossings will pick up once traffic congestion at the Hunghom crossing becomes unbearable.

To get the operator to agree to negotiate, our government officials must do so from a position of strength.

What it needs is an experimental pricing scheme at the Hunghom tunnel which, during peak hours, charges as much as the other two for private cars while allowing franchised buses free passage. During off-peak hours, say between 9pm and 7am, the Hunghom tunnel would be free to all traffic.

This experimental scheme would result in less cross-harbour traffic congestion during peak hours. Because toll charges are basically no different between the three tunnels, private cars will choose the closest one to cross, and traffic will be diverted from the usual highly congested areas at both ends of the Hunghom crossing. The higher charges will also push many commuters to switch to other modes of public transport or to avoid the peak hours.

With toll-free arrangements offered during off-peak hours, the government will defuse any criticism that it is colluding with the tunnel operators.

The tunnel operators will in future think twice before charging higher tolls on the grounds of unsatisfactory return on investment. At higher toll rates, even fewer people will commute by private car on a regular basis. Toll-free passage for franchised buses at the Hunghom crossing will mean that people will be more inclined to take the tunnel buses as operators can be expected to lower their fares.

At the same time, the tunnel operators will be taught a lesson that they cannot raise prices unilaterally and disregard the opinion of both the government and the public.

There is no doubt that some private car users will object to higher toll charges during the peak hours at the Hunghom crossing. However, we all must recognise that our society has to bear the hidden social and environmental costs associated with constant traffic congestion. The use of road pricing to regulate traffic congestion will be the appropriate step to take in future.

Once this experimental scheme is proposed, the tunnel operators will soon be knocking on the door of transport minister Sarah Liao Sau-tung's office to call a truce.

Gabriel Yu, Sai Kung

Q Should illegal downloaders be prosecuted?

Is it illegal to download copies of broadcast television programmes? Assuming downloaded files are for personal use and are not redistributed, most people I've spoken to believe it's no different to videotaping them. However it becomes a little more complicated if the programme has not yet been (or more likely will not be) broadcast in Hong Kong. Perhaps the relevant industry association or government department could clarify this issue?

Maurice Wheatley, Yuen Long

Anyone who steals will be arrested. Everyone knows stealing is illegal. Downloaders are thieves too, because they enjoy films without paying. Downloading films is immoral. Downloaders do not respect the creators' intellectual property rights. If everyone downloads films from the internet, the film industry will be seriously affected by the loss of income, the quality of the films will decrease and we have no excellent entertainment to enjoy.

People can use thousands of ways to copy and download films illegally. It is difficult to prosecute all downloaders. Therefore, if a downloader is prosecuted, serious punishment must be given as a deterrent. As a result, copyright can be protected. The government should prosecute the downloaders to give warning signals to others.

Crystal Cheung, Laguna City

Q Should smoking be banned in pubs, hotels and restaurants?

I read your article recently regarding smokers protesting on the streets against the proposed ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. I lived in Hong Kong for over 10 years and for that time I was a heavy passive smoker. I recently moved to New York where this ban exists. It is wonderful. Both my non-smoker and smoker friends like and appreciate this rule. It is quite nice to go home after a meal or drink without smelling like a chimney. Smokers even enjoy taking cigarette breaks outside restaurants and bars as it is a great chance to strike up a conversation.

Alice Duong, Sha Tin