Traffic drops 6pc as Tate's Cairn Tunnel toll rises
Fee jumps $2 in move academic says may hurt operator
Drivers appeared to take the toll rise for Tate's Cairn Tunnel in their stride yesterday, with traffic dropping by only 6 per cent.
Tolls for private cars and taxis rose from $10 to $12 - the most expensive route to the eastern New Territories compared with the $8 toll for the Lion Rock Tunnel and the toll-free Tai Po Road.
The morning rush in the Tate's Cairn Tunnel from 6am to 9am saw a drop of 6 per cent in traffic, or 590 vehicles, compared with a usual Monday in July. Traffic at Lion Rock also fell by 2 per cent, or 187 vehicles, according to the Transport Department.
The government had estimated that about 2 per cent of motorists would abandon Tate's Cairn after the new toll came into force, creating some increases in traffic at Lion Rock and Tai Po Road.
Ricky Wong Kay, chairman of Hong Kong Container Tractor Owners Association, said most truckers had been using Tai Po Road to avoid tolls even before the new toll at Tate's Cairn kicked in and would continue to do so.
'We will try to avoid it by using Lung Cheung Road and Tai Po Road,' he said.
Andrew Windebank, chief executive of the Automobile Association, said the $2 increase probably would not affect private motorists much.
Separately, an academic said the owners of Western Harbour Tunnel, which charges the most expensive toll in Hong Kong, should consider lowering fees rather than increasing them.
Francis Lui Ting-ming, director of the University of Science and Technology's Centre for Economic Development, said such a move could boost profits by encouraging more vehicles to use the tunnel.
The tunnel operator recently raised its statutory toll to $70 for private cars, but is running a concessionary fare of $40. It did not say how long the concession would last. Professor Lui doubted the operators would raise the toll to the gazetted rate because it would be a 'public relations disaster'.
A company spokeswoman said the operator had no intention of lifting the concessionary tolls for the 'time being' but would regularly review its financial position and the market to see whether it needed to change the toll.
Professor Lui said: 'If they increase the toll by a large amount, they risk losing many of their customers. The public would become angry and I suspect profits would probably decrease.'
The Western Harbour Tunnel Company made $224 million in pre-tax profits in the financial year that ended in July 2004. It made $400 million in net revenue, which was $480 million shy of the projection outlined in the ordinance. The shortfall gave the company the right to raise its toll last week.