Taxi drivers lash out at 'unfair' tunnel toll plan

TAXI drivers, passengers, and tunnel operators were unanimous in their disapproval of the proposed threefold increase in cross-harbour tunnel fees.

Passengers would have to pay $60, instead of the present $20, for a cross-harbour taxi trip.

The cost of a trip from Central to the airport would jump by 50 per cent from $80 to $120.

Taxi driver Chan Kwok-kwong said that it was unfair of the Government to place the burden of traffic congestion on taxi drivers.

'Increasing the fee would not decrease the corresponding number of vehicles going through the tunnels,' he said, adding that it would only temporarily solve the congestion problem at both tunnels.

Passengers also showed dismay at the proposed increase. 'I will cut down my cross-harbour taxi trips,' said Daisy Wong, a frequent taxi user.

Researcher Nini Balderama said the increase was too high. She said taxis were the most convenient way for her to travel.

According to Leung Tat-chiu, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Taxi and Lorry Owners' Association, taxi drivers could lose 10 per cent of their business.

'Business nowadays is already difficult. With the rise, commuters will use other transport, and that would have a huge adverse effect on our earnings,' he said.

He said the Government's reasons for supporting the rise were insufficient, and it was inappropriate to resort to economic measures to combat traffic congestion.

'Drivers of cars could not care less about the increase.

'Raising the tunnel toll can only solve traffic congestion at the tunnels on a short-term basis.' The Cross-Harbour Tunnel Company said the new system would worsen congestion at certain times as drivers tried to avoid the 7 am to 9 pm period during which the increased toll would be levied.

Chairman Gerry Higginson said the move would reduce his company's profit by cutting traffic volume. He said his firm should receive part of the tax increase as compensation.

The chief executive of the Hong Kong Automobile Association, Kendy Chan Kin-chung, said the proposed toll would cut traffic use initially but 'after six months everything will be back to normal'.

He said the rise would then have a chain effect with taxis and small businesses passing on their increased costs to the general public.

'It won't work because people have really got no choice - you have to use the tunnels if you want to cross the harbour,' Mr Chan said.

Vice-chairman of the Motor Traders' Association Chow Bing-hung agreed the changes would only have a short term impact.