Fee rise fails to take toll on tunnel traffic

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2008, 12:00am

Traffic in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel remained as congested as usual - but no more so - on the first business day of a toll rise at its underused rival yesterday.

The Transport Department said the increased charges at the Western Harbour Tunnel had had little or no effect, despite a slight decrease in the traffic in the tunnel and a slight rise at the other two harbour crossings. Some commuters said they experienced a slightly longer delay than usual.

The western tunnel - Hong Kong's newest - cancelled some of its toll concessions from Sunday, resulting in increases of up to 15 per cent, depending on the type of vehicle. It now charges HK$45 for a private car, compared with HK$20 in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel.

Critics had predicted the Cross-Harbour Tunnel would be jammed as a result but rush-hour queues yesterday were about the same as usual.

In the evening rush hours, the Kowloon-bound queue stretched to the Academy for Performing Arts in Wan Chai and journey-time indicators near Immigration Tower advised drivers it would taken them 20 minutes to pass through the tunnel.

Chief transport officer Lee Man-ho said: 'Some people might have left home for work earlier [in anticipation of longer queues] or some drivers might have changed to public transport.'

The Western Harbour Tunnel, the largest of the three harbour crossings, has the statutory right to raise tolls under its operating franchise to ensure it receives a specified rate of return. With toll charges the highest among the three, its car flow has been consistently lower than at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and Eastern Harbour Tunnel.

The Transport Department said 10,156 vehicles passed through the western tunnel during the morning rush hour from 7am to 10am, a 2.3 per cent drop from 10,397 vehicles on January 8 - also a working day - last year. During the same time period, the overloaded Cross-Harbour Tunnel recorded 18,252 vehicles - a slight drop on the same time last year.

Drivers turned to the Eastern Harbour Tunnel, as it recorded a 4.2 per cent surge, from 15,080 to 15,716 vehicles yesterday.

A Western Harbour Tunnel Co spokesman said it would focus on providing quality service and launch initiatives to stimulate use.

In response to the toll rise, more than 30 taxi and minibus drivers protested at the toll gate yesterday.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said the government had taken notice of suggestions by academics and the business sectors to resolve congestion problems.

On the right track?

Traffic through the three cross-harbour tunnels from 7am to 10am yesterday, compared with January 8 last year

Western Harbour Tunnel

10,156 down 2.3%

Cross-Harbour Tunnel

18,252 down 1.4%

Eastern Harbour Tunnel

15,716 up 4.2%