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Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge

Normal traffic resumes at Lantau Island after Monday chaos over new toll arrangement

Authorities blame unprepared motorists for congestion on first weekday of two-way collection system while drivers point to lack of booths

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 12:11pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 10:35pm

There was relief for commuters travelling to Lantau Island on Tuesday morning as traffic on the island’s only road link returned to normal after a new toll arrangement caused chaos on Monday.

Motorists were able to stop and go with ease at the Lantau-bound toll plaza’s six cash booths – two more than on Monday – with queues of no more than two or three vehicles forming at each booth.

The Post observed vehicles taking an average of 20 to 50 seconds to pay manually in cash for the single trip to the island.

Commuters subscribed to Autotoll services could drive though one of two dedicated lanes at full speed.

Two of the five middle lanes that were closed for construction work on Monday are now in operation.

Transport department ‘could have done better’ after new toll system brought chaos to Hong Kong’s road to airport

The Transport Department had drawn heavy criticism after the new two-way toll collection arrangement led to traffic being backed up as far as 15km on its first weekday of operation.

While authorities attributed the congestion to unprepared motorists – for years, tolls were collected only on trips out of Lantau – many commuters pointed to the insufficient number of booths and the department’s failure to anticipate the problem.

Lawmakers across the political spectrum have called for the toll arrangement to be suspended until the facilities are fully ready.

The department shot down the idea, saying it would create confusion for some motorists, who might hesitate upon passing the booths, creating danger.

On a radio programme on Tuesday, Polytechnic University civil and environmental engineering professor Hung Wing-tat, who specialises in transport infrastructure development, tried to explain what happened on Monday.

He said, citing figures from the Transport Department, that about 4,000 Lantau-bound vehicles pass through the toll plaza every hour during peak periods.

“If there are five lanes, that means each lane has to process payments for 800 vehicles every hour.”

While this seemed like a reasonable target, Hung said, “a lot of motorists were unprepared and did not have change ready”.

Lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan, chairman of the Legislative Council’s transport panel, said a long-term solution would be to scrap tolls for the Lantau Link altogether.

“For a lot of toll roads overseas, the public is offered a [toll-free] alternative … But Lantau residents have no choice,” he pointed out.

Chan added that the situation might become worse upon the commissioning of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, which is expected to significantly ramp up traffic flow in and out of Lantau.

Hung said that in theory, tolls are charged to avoid excessive traffic into an area or when the government has financial difficulty operating the infrastructure.

“But there is no congestion [on Lantau] and the government is not short of money now, so why keep the toll?” he asked.