Bus firms warn fares may rise if tolls go up

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 January, 2011, 12:00am

Three bus operators say they may have to increase fares if the government adopts a consultant's recommendation that some tunnel tolls should rise to combat cross-harbour congestion.

They said their operating costs would be pushed up by tens of millions of dollars a year if the toll for buses using the Cross-Harbour Tunnel was increased from HK$15 to HK$60 as recommended.

Kowloon Motor Bus operations director Kenrick Fok said the company's costs would increase by HK$40 million a year.

Senior operations support manager for Citybus and New World First Bus Newton Ng Yee-kwan said the sister operators would pay an extra HK$50 million.

Both said the extra cost would put pressure on bus fares and affect passengers but did not say how big an increase would be needed. They said buses should be exempted from any change of toll even if the government adopted the recommendation.

A consultancy firm in November advised the government to raise tolls for the clogged Cross-Harbour Tunnel and use the money to subsidise the under-used Eastern Harbour Crossing so its operator could offer a toll cut to lure more traffic.

Double-decker buses are now charged HK$15 in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and HK$75 in the eastern crossing. Under the proposals, the charge would be HK$60 for both.

Tolls in the Western Harbour Tunnel would remain unchanged.

Fok and Ng said raising the toll for buses would not ease congestion, as any changes to bus routes and their frequency had to be approved by the Transport Department.

Meanwhile, taxi, minibus and truck drivers' groups called for the government to subsidise the operator of the more expensive Western Harbour Tunnel, and to negotiate for discounts to commercial vehicles during off-peak hours.

The consultant did not recommend a subsidy for the western tunnel because roads leading to it are already congested and it cannot take any more traffic until the Central-Wan Chai bypass opens in 2017.

Liberal Party lawmaker Miriam Lau Kin-yee cast doubt on this conclusion, saying the western tunnel is far from saturated in off-peak hours.

Undersecretary for Transport and Housing Yau Shing-mu also said it would be difficult to negotiate a discount because the tunnel's operator had the right to decide the toll.

A public consultation on the recommendations is under way until next month. But Yau would not tell lawmakers when a concrete plan will be available for discussion.