Car drivers face 17pc toll increase at Tate's Cairn Tunnel

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 September, 2008, 12:00am

Motorists using Tate's Cairn Tunnel will have to dig deeper into their pockets from late November after the government approves an average 15.6 per cent toll increase.

Critics fear the increase will encourage other tunnel companies or bus operators to raise prices and eventually fuel inflation.

But transport officials said yesterday it was the best deal they could reach. They argued that the company's financial position was a key factor in approving the toll rise. 'If no agreement is reached, the tunnel company can resort to arbitration,' a government spokesman said.

'Having considered the rate of increase and other factors, we considered that reaching an agreement with the company could achieve a better balance.'

The tunnel company has been suffering losses in operating the facility since opening in 1991. In the 2006-07 financial year, it reported an accumulated loss of over HK$53 million.

'We are 20 years into a 30-year franchise and this toll rise will contribute to the company's continued viability,' said Terrence Fung, the company's general manager.

The company has plans to invest HK$44 million in the next seven years to maintain facilities and improve services.

The new tolls will come into effect on November 30.

Among the hardest hit will be drivers of private cars, who will have to pay 17 per cent more, or HK$14. The new toll for double-decker buses will be HK$31, a 19 per cent increase.

The last toll rise was in August 2005, when tolls for private cars went up by 20 per cent.

KMB, Citybus and New World First Bus expressed concerns over pressure on operating costs.

Democratic Party legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said: 'The toll rise will put a heavier burden on the people. It contradicts the government's anti-inflation measures.'

Transport expert Hung Wing-tat, of Polytechnic University, warned that drivers could take Lion Rock Tunnel or Tai Po Road to avoid the higher tolls. 'It will put heavier pressure on the transport system,' Mr Hung said.

But according to estimates by the Transport and Housing Bureau, only 700 to 900 vehicles a day will be diverted to Lion Rock Tunnel and 200 to 300 to Tai Po Road.

The government was satisfied that the impact on traffic would be minimal, a spokesman said. He also said tunnel tolls were a small part of bus companies' overall costs.

The tunnel was used by 56,400 vehicles a day last year.