TRAFFIC congestion should be beaten by higher tunnel fees not by taxing car owners, two top business groups said yesterday. Government plans to make car ownership more expensive were against free market principles, said the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and the Hong Kong Coalition of Service Industries. Instead, people should pay when they use their car. Toll fees on all the tunnels should be raised significantly and there should be a new tax on public and company car parking in congested urban areas, the groups said. The Chamber of Commerce's director, Ian Christie, said the Government should decide how high the tolls should go, but he said if tolls had kept pace with inflation the cost of crossing the harbour would now be $90. In peak hours a further premium could be added for cars carrying only one passenger, Mr Christie said, which would encourage car pooling. Cars with only one person should be banned from using the autotoll lanes, he added. He acknowledged any move to control traffic congestion would be unpopular. 'But we think there will be majority public support for the user pays principle,' he said. Electronic road pricing was a feasible long-term solution, he said but, in the interim, taxing car ownership was not acceptable. Unless the Government changed its plans it would find it very difficult to get them through the Legislative Council, he said. The criticisms will provide more ammunition for opponents of the Government's transport package. The Hong Kong Motor Traders Association will today announce it has found widespread opposition among car owners, and the Hong Kong Automobile Association will make a similar report tomorrow. The Transport Secretary, Haider Barma, has said that Hong Kong can only avoid gridlock if it cuts car growth from 10 per cent a year to three per cent or less. The most effective way to do that is to increase first registration tax and annual licence fees, Mr Barma has said. The chamber and the coalition also criticised government plans to drop tax benefits on company cars. Mr Christie said cars were a legitimate business expense. 'Of course you will always have individuals who will take advantage of the system and the answer is to plug the loopholes,' he said. Goods vehicles should be banned from making daytime deliveries to shops and stores in the busiest areas, while elsewhere there should be exclusion zones for deliveries in peak hours, the groups said. If the Government had to increase the cost of car ownership then it should put up annual licence fees before first registration tax, they said.