• Mon
  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 1:44pm
NewsHong Kong

Drivers facing three more years of jams in Cross-Harbour Tunnel

After years of study and consultation, officials decide to take no action, leading to charges that the transport minister ‘lacks political courage’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 12:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 9:11am

Drivers will have to put up with at least three more years of jams in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel after the government shelved plans to redistribute traffic by adjusting the tolls.

Transport minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said yesterday the decision was based on the absence of a clear public consensus and unexpected changes in traffic figures for two of the three harbour tunnels.

A critic accused Cheung of lacking the political courage to introduce badly needed transport management policy.

But the minister said 2017 would be a better time to reconsider these plans when the government regained ownership of the Eastern Harbour Tunnel from the franchise operator.

It would also be the year a new waterfront bypass linking Wan Chai and Central will open, increasing the capacity of the Western Harbour Tunnel.

The decision follows public consultation on a 2010 report which suggested increasing tolls in the Hung Hom tunnel and reducing them in the eastern tunnel.

Tolls in the western tunnel would not have been affected as it could not have coped with extra traffic because of a bottleneck at its island end.

Polytechnic University transport specialist Dr Hung Wing-tat claimed the government was just looking for excuses not to act.

"If they plan to do it after 2017, it means they are not planning to do anything," he said. "We'll have another government by then."

Cheung said 106 submissions had been received on the three toll options given in the consultants' 2010 report.

Of eight district councils asked for their views, the Kwun Tong and Eastern councils opposed the scheme while the rest did not indicate a preference.

"We are mindful of the concern expressed in the local community," Cheung said. "We cannot turn a blind eye to objective facts and future impact."

Cheung also said changes in tunnel flow had occurred. Daily flow at the eastern tunnel rose to more than 72,000 last year.

If a further 5,000 vehicles were directed to it as planned, the flow would have been close to its capacity of 78,000.

At the same time, the number of vehicles in the Hung Hom tunnel dropped to 116,739, the lowest in 25 years, though it remained more than 30 per cent above the 78,000 capacity.

Cheung said the reduction in traffic was unexpected while officials believed it could be a result of "natural diversion" because drivers simply could not tolerate the congestion any longer.

Cheung denied that the consultants' report was a waste of money, although no figures were provided on how much the report cost. Hung said the excuses cited by the minister were not convincing, in particular the traffic changes registered last year in two of the tunnels.

He said the changes, of about one or two per cent, at the Hung Hom and eastern tunnels were just normal fluctuations.

"It's not even a trend. The changes are so minimal," he said.

Timothy Hau Doe-kwong, associate professor at the University of Hong Kong's school of economics and finance, said the government could consider charging different amounts in the Hung Hom tunnel at peak and non-peak hours.

But from an economist's point of view, tolls at the Hung Hom tunnel should rise because of the excessive demand.

Meanwhile, Cheung pledged to consider a pilot scheme for electronic road charging to manage traffic in Central after completion of the bypass.

A government spokesman said public consultation on this scheme, already studied at least twice since the 1980s, could start in 2016.

Kerry Properties, controlled by the Kerry Group, controlling shareholder of this newspaper's publisher, SCMP Group, owns 15 per cent of the Western Harbour Tunnel Co, the tunnel's operator.


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This article is now closed to comments

John Adams
The headline is full of pathetic irony :
"After YEARS of study and consultation, officials decide to take NO ACTION......"
Doesn't that summarize so much of our government these days ?!
Pathetic decision! No leadership whatsoever! Same old pattern by these buffoons in Government -expensive consultant's report, followed by handwringing and endless committee meetings. End result: shelve the problem because of 'lack of consensus'. Why don't we propose sacking these useless overpaid shoeshiners and just put up a sign saying 'business as usual - nothing can happen because we're hiding behind that fig-leaf excuse and magic word 'consensus'!
Dai Muff
This government routinely ignores the results of its own "consultations". The only consultation that counts is in a northward direction. So much for governing by consensus.
Ah yes, the Western Harbour Tunnel - that testimony to the wonderful mix of incompetence, ignorance and big-business collusion that characterises our government. Lovely tunnel, mostly empty.

What bottleneck at its island end? It cannot possibly be worse than the bottleneck that is Causeway Bay, can it?

And even so - how about we would opt for the very simple solution to adjust the toll one way then? Make the Western Tunnel cheaper to go Island => Kowloon and keep the Old Tunnel cheaper Kowloon => Island.

Voila. Gone is the tunnel queue that already starts in Wan Chai, gone is the perpetual congestion of half of Causeway Bay. But oh wait, no. Of course a solution so simple and elegant could never be something our government could think of, let alone execute. Instead, they do nothing. Which is exactly what they are good for: nothing.
Dear Gov, please READ the comments below and act accordingly. You take home handsome salaries to give you the balls to take decisions. Consultation after consultation, then just deferring to the next adminstration is not what you are paid for. Grow some right now, and equalise ALL tunnel tolls (as per during the WTO event). Put the cross harbour prices up if you need to.
Lets get this city flowing again before your idiotic Central-WanChai bypass snarls up the day it opens. Because with uneven tolls that is exactly what will happen in the Cross-harbour tunnel is still the cheapest by far, you just make is easier for vans/cars/taxis in western to join the jam.
John Adams
Transport minister Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung.......what a wimp ! .
Such a big problem and ur "government " decides to do ..... NOTHING for us !
Yet when a hundred silly protesters hold a trivial demonstration about too many mainland tourists almost every senior government minister gets up and speaks out, and does something.
The message is clear - our 'government" cares more about mainland tourists than it does about the people of HK..
PS : did the dear Professor even once consider the very sensible suggestions made by
Impala ( see earlier comment ) ? Even on the Severn bridges in UK the tolls are only one way between England and Wales.
a) Double the cost of the cross harbor tunnel to $50 per private car. This would reduce the usage by private cars
b) Realign more bus routes to use the Eastern / Western harbor tunnel. Ex I work in East HK and live in East Kowloon. I can get on a pretty full bus in East HK and then go through central tunnel and end up in east Kowloon (long journey - 1 hour). I can drive the same distance through east harbor tunnel in about 20 minutes.
East Kowloon has enough residents that if bus routes were re-designed it would reduce congestion, pollution and allow people to get home faster.
Public Transport should always be given priority.
in 2005 when the WTO came to HK, the gov set all tunnel tolls at $20 and there was NO traffic whatsoever even during rush hour... The government have just taken the easy option on this one and deferred to the next administration. Ostrich. Head. Sand. #Facepalm.
Yep! It does seem the government officials only dare to speak up when backed by the mainland. Spineless creatures.



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