Higher tolls at Western Harbour Tunnel prompt fare rises on four minibus routes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2008, 12:00am

The fares for four minibus routes that go through the Western Harbour Tunnel will increase by 70 cents to HK$1 from January 23, a response to the partial removal of toll concessions yesterday, which saw some drivers paying up to 15 per cent more to use the tunnel.

The Taxi and Public Light Bus Concern Group, which represents five minibus routes affected by the toll change, said yesterday the fare increase was the only means to ensure their survival.

'We tried not to adjust the fares when the price of fuel went up because we knew the price could drop again any time,' said Lai Ming-hung, spokesman for the group. 'But the toll will only keep going up. Our minibus drivers will earn HK$1,500 to HK$2,000 less a month if we keep the current fares.'

He said it was ridiculous to continue pushing more cars to use the already jam-packed government-run Cross-Harbour Tunnel because its tolls were cheaper than those charged for the Western Harbour Tunnel and Eastern Harbour Tunnel, both controlled by Citic Group.

Few vehicles were seen passing through the western tunnel on the first day of toll increases. How much the apparent decrease in the number of users was a result of the fact that it was a Sunday was unknown, as the tunnel company could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Under the new regime, the Tsuen Wan-Sheung Wan and Mong Kok-Kennedy Town routes will cost HK$14.80 and HK$11 respectively, a HK$1 increase for each.

The Mong Kok-Western District route will go up by 80 cents to HK$13, while the Aberdeen-Mong Kok route will increase by 70 cents to HK$13.50.

Fares for the Causeway Bay-Yuen Long and Aberdeen-Kwun Tong routes will remain the same.

Mr Lai said January 23 was chosen for the fare hike for its special meaning under the Lunar calendar. 'It is traditionally the day for businessmen to settle their accounts and outstanding debts,' he said. 'We also need to give drivers and passengers time to prepare for the change.'

About 15 members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong yesterday marched to the toll plaza on the West Kowloon side of the tunnel, demanding that the operator maintain its toll concessions.

Chan Hok-fung, transport affairs spokesman for the alliance, said the operator had accumulated a net revenue of more than HK$1 billion in recent years and should not need to impose higher charges on tunnel users.

Kwok Chi-bill, chairman of the Urban Taxi Drivers Association Joint Committee, said drivers would lose business as some travellers would now opt for the less costly MTR to go from Central or Western to Kowloon.

Taxis, private cars and minibuses must now pay HK$40, HK$45 and HK$55, respectively - HK$5 more than before - to use the tunnel.

The tunnel operator is allowed to raise tolls as its net revenue fell short of the minimum estimated net revenue stipulated by the government in its previous fiscal year.