Hong Kong needs more roads to cope with car growth

Transport economist says the time has come to charge for road use if Hong Kong is going to cope with the increase in vehicle ownership

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 May, 2013, 5:40am

Private car ownership in Hong Kong is outpacing the expansion of roads and private car mileage has risen above the average vehicle mileage over the past decade, Transport Department figures revealed.

The findings prompted a leading transport economist to renew his call for the introduction of road pricing measures.

Transport Department data showed car ownership per 1,000 people rose to 63.4 cars in 2012, 25 per cent up on 2002 figures.

However, the length of road per person for the same 1,000 people rose by only 1.7 per cent for the same period. The city has about 2,090 kilometres of roads.

Singapore, by comparison, has 3,700 kilometres of roads and 520,000 cars, but two million fewer people than Hong Kong.

In terms of usage, private cars in Hong Kong accounted for 40 per cent - the largest share - of all vehicle mileage. Car mileage rose 9 per cent - 3 per cent more than the average mileage of all vehicles - in the past decade.

On average, each car travelled 31 kilometres a day.

Past surveys conducted by the Transport Department found that car owners tended to make up to 80 per cent more trips than other owners, and about 55 per cent of them drove their cars at least five days a week.

The department's data prompted Dr Timothy Hau Doe-kwong, an associate professor from the University of Hong Kong's school of economics and finance, to renew his call for the government to consider road pricing measures.

"Road building can never catch up with the vehicle increase," said Hau, who used to advise the government on road toll matters. Officials should look into charging for the use of roads in busy areas, such as the Central-Wan Chai waterfront bypass that would open in 2017, he said.

Hau said road pricing, fuel tax and vehicle licensing fees were effective means of controlling car ownership and usage.

Singapore uses an electronic road pricing system to manage traffic on roads linked to its central business district and along some expressways.

But its quota system on vehicle ownership, which now limits Singapore's annual vehicle growth to less than 0.5 per cent, might not suit the culture in Hong Kong, Hau said. The premium paid for owning a compact car in Singapore is about HK$300,000. Hong Kong relies on registration taxes and licence fees to curb car growth. But the last tax increase in 2011 had its effect partially offset by a rise in the tax concession offered to owners of environment-friendly private cars.

Under the current transport policy, all cars imported into Hong Kong must be registered and subject to a first registration tax of between 40 and 115 per cent of the car's taxable value. Only cars holding an annual licence - issued for a fee of between HK$3,900 and HK$13,300, based on engine size - are allowed on the roads.