Government inaction will condemn commuters to years of delays

The decision to employ consultants to analyse congestion at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel means nothing will be done to solve the problem for a long time

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2016, 1:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2016, 1:02am

Foot-dragging is typical of government bureaucracy. Our transport officials have set a very bad example by delaying again much-needed action to ease the increasingly serious congestion at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel. The latest excuse is the need for yet another consultancy study to tell them how to tackle the problem. The procrastination does not square with the governance principle of putting people first.

This is not the first time the government has turned to consultants for help on a long-standing problem. The previous study went back to 2010, with a suggestion to cut the tolls at the Eastern Harbour Tunnel to help divert traffic from the heavily congested route linking Hung Hom and Causeway Bay. But the proposal was later rejected on the grounds that the eastern tunnel was also reaching its capacity. The government instead said its takeover of the eastern tunnel’s operation in August 2016 would give more flexibility for toll adjustments and traffic management. The room will be even bigger when the franchise of the other underused western tunnel also expires in 2023.

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There are those who have already questioned why officials are paying consultants to do their job again. After all, it does not take an economist to see that market equilibrium can be achieved through price adjustments. Even if consultants are needed, they should have been commissioned long before the scheduled takeover of the eastern tunnel. That would have enabled the government to act as soon as practicable. The latest estimate is that the study will only commence in January, with the results due in the 2017/18 legislative session. That means the congestion is to stay for a few more years at least.

That hundreds of thousands of commuters have become victims of government inaction is regrettable. The longer the queues on each side of the tunnel, the higher the economic and social costs to society. The recent takeover has raised public expectations of prompt and effective solutions to the problem. We trust officials will not push back action until 2023.