Are taxis in Discovery Bay the thin end of the wedge for residents?
The Discovery Bay private development attracted buyers and renters with a green, car-free environment and a 24-hour fast ferry service. It seemed safe from the usual urban lifestyle trade-offs, such as traffic and pollution, save for trade vehicles and golf carts that serve as a mode of private transportation alongside public buses. But development is an irresistible force in Hong Kong, even if it is sometimes debatable whether it represents progress.
The construction of a new airport led to the building of a tunnel linking Discovery Bay with the North Lantau Highway and bus services to the airport, Tung Chung and Sunny Bay. That, arguably, was progress to a community that makes more use of the airport than most. But delivery and service vehicles have since boosted tunnel traffic to 1,000 movements a day, on top of internal traffic like shuttle buses to the ferry.
And now, having departed from the residential concept by building a tourist hotel near the tunnel at the northern end of the enclave, the developer HKRI has won permission to have taxis come as far as the "hotel zone" and, later, to allow non-franchised tourist buses through the tunnel.
The Transport Department says approval is subject to conditions which, according to HKRI, include an undisclosed land premium because the new services will increase land values.
A poll four years ago found that up to 60 per cent of residents opposed letting taxis in. They have reasons for concern that the latest erosion of their tranquillity is the thin end of the wedge.
If, as claimed, the taxis will also serve the emergency needs of residents, they will be remote from most of them unless allowed to roam further than the hotel zone. Otherwise it will seem they are really for the benefit of the hotel - at this stage.
If the current relaxation of vehicle restrictions boosts property values, many owners can be expected to see capital gains to be made from further easing, such as allowing private cars through the tunnel to a parking area or even further.