Wallets face a hiding
Priciest tunnel gets 15pc pricier
Drivers of private cars, taxis, minibuses and buses will have to pay up to 15 per cent more to use the Western Harbour Tunnel from tomorrow after removal of a number of toll concessions.
The toll increases in the city's most expensive tunnel have prompted some minibus operators to consider increasing fares and brought a warning that traffic will be diverted back to the already overcrowded Cross-Harbour Tunnel where charges are much lower.
The Western Harbour Tunnel Company, controlled by the Citic group, applied for toll increases last July but it extended concessions at the same time so the actual toll has remained unchanged until now.
From tomorrow private cars will pay HK$45, taxis HK$40 and minibuses HK$55, a rise of HK$5 in each case. A promotional rate of HK$10 for empty cabs at midnight will be extended until June.
Double-decker buses face the biggest percentage increase - 15 per cent from HK$100 to HK$115.
Tolls are unchanged for motorcycles and light, medium and heavy goods vehicles, which pay between HK$22 and HK$275.
The operator is entitled to charge up to HK$90 for private vehicles - the statutory toll already gazetted and approved by the government - and a lot more for other transport modes any time it wants.
A number of operators of red-top minibuses yesterday were already contemplating shifting the financial burden - estimated at 30 HK cents per passenger trip - on to their passengers.
Other public operators - including Kowloon Motor Bus and New World First Bus, which have fare rise applications in the pipeline - said the increase was bound to add to their operational costs.
Legislative Council transport panel chairman Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said the toll rise would eventually spread to the Eastern Harbour Tunnel, which is operated by the same group, and together they would force more cars into using the Cross-Harbour Tunnel.
'In time, the Cross-Harbour Tunnel will explode, but the government is not doing anything about it,' he said.
That tunnel, which charges only HK$20 for a private car, carries almost half of the traffic to and from Hong Kong Island.
The ever-rising tolls are made possible by an old policy that allows operators to increase tolls if their net revenue falls short of the minimum estimated net revenue stipulated by the government.
In the fiscal year ended last July, net revenue for the Western Harbour Tunnel stood at HK$658 million, less than half of the government's projection of HK$1.54 billion.
The Western Harbour Tunnel has raised its statutory tolls six times since it came into operation in 1997, although the actual rates have climbed only twice.
The Transport and Housing Bureau said it had warned the operator to consider the public's ability to pay and had tried to persuade it to delay the increase.
Veteran transport analyst Hung Wing-tat said the government was not as powerless as some suggested, because it could always buy the tunnel back. But he believed officials must have concluded the problem was not yet serious enough for them to take such steps.
'It is unlikely the rise would exert a very big impact on the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, because the fact remains that many private car drivers and taxi drivers are willing to buy time with money,' he said.
Traffic in the Western Harbour Tunnel has continued to rise over the past five years even though it is the most expensive of the three.
Othe increases on the way
KMB afres to rise by* 9.1%
Citybus, New World First Bus fares to rise by* 5.8%
Star Ferry fares to rise by* 23%
Taxi flag-fall to rise by* HK$1
Green minibus fares to rise between 20 cents and* 10%
Hourly rates at Housing Authority car parks to rise by* HK$1
Hongkong Electric tariffs have risen by 6%
LPG prices at government-subsidised stations have risen by up to 14%
US travel visa fee goes up 31 per cent HK$1,022
During Lunar New Year, prices of eight-day package tour to New Zealand to rise by up to 88%
*Pending government approval