Hong Kong would be perfect location for electronic road pricing
I have heard with interest that the Transport Department is considering relaxing the restrictions on entry to the closed roads of south Lantau, with the stated aim of allowing more coaches and private cars to use the roads.
As a frequent visitor to that part of Lantau, I have always enjoyed the relative lack of traffic compared with all other districts in Hong Kong, and all the benefits that this lack of traffic bring - for example, less pollution, open roads and ease of transportation. Instead of opening up south Lantau to more traffic, the department should really be thinking of the opposite - extending the restrictions to all other areas of Hong Kong.
This could be done very simply and quickly using existing electronic road pricing technology, as currently used in places such as London and Singapore. In fact Hong Kong's compact road system actually means it could work extremely well here.
For example, allowing only residents to drive in most districts (without paying a daily congestion/pollution charge of around HK$500 a day) would make a massive difference to people's lives living in districts such as Sai Kung, Clear Water Bay, Southern District, Tai Po, Sha Tin and Chai Wan. And the electronic road pricing systems could easily be set up to automatically allow commercial vehicles in without having to pay the charge. Likewise, large thoroughfares could be exempted for all traffic, to enable through traffic.
Another example of the department's slant in favour of the transport lobby is the complete absence of any real traffic-calming measures in villages throughout the New Territories. All over Europe "sleeping policemen" (humps in the road) and other measures are employed to force fast moving vehicles to slow down - but the department's riposte to requests for these measures in Hong Kong is that they would inconvenience road users too much. What about the seniors, children and animals who are put in danger by speeding vehicles through all these villages? Are their interests not above the minor inconvenience of a few minutes' extra journey time?
At a time when enlightened administrations all over the world are seeing the benefits of limiting private car use as much as possible, and instead encouraging public transport, bicycle usage and pedestrianisation, the Hong Kong Transport Department is lagging woefully behind this current of forward thinking.
Instead of prioritising the transport lobby and private car owners, the department should shift its focus towards improving the lives and environment of the population as a whole.
Bert Young, Chai Wan