Tunnel toll rise 'would deter use of private cars'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 February, 2011, 12:00am

A proposed 40 per cent rise in tolls for the Eastern Harbour Tunnel would not divert traffic to the 'saturated' Cross-Harbour Tunnel but instead reduce the use of private vehicles across the harbour, a government official told lawmakers yesterday.

During a hearing on an application by the Eastern Harbour Tunnel's operators to increase tolls by 40 per cent, officials suggested the Cross-Harbour Tunnel was already running at maximum capacity and any increase in tolls for the Eastern Harbour Tunnel would persuade commuters to take public transport instead.

The overall effect of a 40 per cent rise in Eastern Harbour Tunnel fees would be to deter the use of private cars, the undersecretary for transport and housing, Yau Shing-mu, told the Legislative Council's transport panel.

'The Cross-Harbour Tunnel is already saturated, so we expect the increase would, in fact, suppress cross-harbour traffic as a whole, although we believe the drop in traffic would not be as much [as projected by New Hong Kong Tunnel Company, the tunnel's operators],' Yau said.

As expected, lawmakers rejected the company's application for a 40 per cent toll rise, calling the increase 'crazy'.

In 2002, the panel rejected the company's bid for a 30 per cent increase in Eastern Harbour Tunnel tolls, but an arbitrator ruled that such a rate was necessary to give the company a 'reasonable return' of between 15 and 17 per cent over its 30-year franchise, which expires in 2016.

If approved, the new fees will add HK$10 to the HK$25 charged for private cars and HK$30 to the HK$75 paid by double-decker buses.

Yau said such a rise would have only a limited impact on both inflation and bus operators.

'Tolls, together with other expenses like vehicles' licence fees, make up only 1.4 per cent of the consumer price index. It also amounts to less than 10 per cent of bus companies' total costs. Few bus routes now use the Eastern Harbour Tunnel.'

Lawmakers said they were unhappy with the government's ineptness in controlling toll rises, and urged it to consider buying back the two privately owned tunnels.

Miriam Lau Kin-yee of the Liberal Party feared that a fall in traffic through the eastern tunnel might cut traffic at Tate's Cairn Tunnel, which connects Island East to Tai Wai and Sha Tin, adding pressure to raise tunnel tolls there as well.

The New Hong Kong Tunnel Company's application to raise eastern tunnel tolls will be further assessed by the Transport Advisory Committee before being submitted to the Executive Council for approval.