Faster lane needed in Hong Kong tunnel tolls saga
The need to make less used tunnels cheaper and overused ones more expensive has been glaringly obvious for years, now let’s make the changes
Government moves to rationalise tolls at Hong Kong’s road tunnels to ease chronic congestion have moved at about the same glacial pace as a car stuck in one of the queues. The need to make less used tunnels cheaper and overused ones more expensive has been glaringly obvious for years. Last week’s proposal from the Transport and Housing Bureau, seeking to achieve that aim, is therefore welcome, if long overdue. A consultancy study in 2010 found that appropriate toll changes could cut queues at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel by as much as 52 per cent. But plans were shelved in 2014 on the unconvincing basis that there was no public consensus. Three years and another consultancy study later, it seems progress is being made. But the latest proposal is couched in such cautionary terms we should not be too optimistic about an early implementation of changes.
The government has proposed higher fees at the heavily congested Cross-Harbour and Lion Rock tunnels, with lower tolls for others. Traffic volumes for the Cross-Harbour Tunnel during morning peak hours have exceeded capacity by a staggering 77 per cent. There is an urgent need for action. Drivers should be encouraged to head for the underused Western Harbour Tunnel in Sai Ying Pun, which currently charges three times the fee of that imposed on a car at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel. The Western Harbour Tunnel is run by a franchise and this will continue until 2023. The government, in its brief to the Legislative Council, did not sound very confident that a deal might be done in the meantime to exchange subsidies for lower tolls at that tunnel. But the idea should be pursued. The government’s paper stresses the need for yet further consultation with lawmakers and stakeholders and makes progress conditional on the often elusive “community consensus”.
This has gone on too long. Action is needed to ease congestion. Finding better ways to control the rise in the number of vehicles on our roads and pushing ahead with electronic road pricing in Central are necessary steps. But the foot-dragging on tunnel toll adjustments must stop. It is time for the changes to be made.