Legislator says operator put up charges despite a healthy profit A lawmaker criticised the operator of Tai Lam Tunnel yesterday for being greedy in raising its toll despite healthy financial results last year, likening the company to a fat man who wanted to feed himself some more. Wong Kwok-hing was one of several legislators who received a letter from Route Three Company last week stating the operator's income in the past few years. Legislators of the transport panel had requested the data to see whether an increase was warranted. But company executives requested that the information not be released to the public. Mr Wong avoided mentioning the company's actual income during yesterday's subcommittee meeting by referring to the road operator as a man instead. 'It has been estimated that you can weigh up to 300 pounds,' he said. 'Even though you're not there yet, you had already reached 250 pounds last year. The trend is that profits are rising, especially last year. But yet there is still a toll increase.' Deputy Secretary for Transport Annie Choi Suk-han explained that the tunnel operator was entitled to an increase by law if its net revenue fell below a certain point, which it did in 2001. No approval from the government was needed, she said. The company had already delayed its increase by a few years. She added that the government had been considering extending the company's franchise to operate the tunnel exclusively beyond 2025 so that the toll increase could be delayed. The toll at Tai Lam Tunnel on Route 3, which links Yuen Long with Kowloon, was raised from $22 to $25 for private cars and taxis on Sunday. The operator of Tate's Cairn Tunnel, which links eastern Kowloon to Sha Tin, will increase its toll from $10 to $12 for private cars and taxis in August. The Executive Council has already approved the new toll. Ms Choi said the increase at Tate's Cairn was mild and justified because the company would have made an internal rate of return of 3.87 per cent by the end of its 30-year franchise if there were no toll adjustment. That would be quite a low return for such a long-term investment, she said. Legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo said it was strange that the government would consider a toll increase of 20 per cent mild, especially given that many citizens had not received a pay rise for a few years. 'I think it was definitely a wrong decision to approve Tate's Cairn Tunnel's request,' he said. 'The government should have rejected it and taken the case to the arbitrators. If you lose the case at the arbitrators, then appeal,' Mr Cheng said. 'This is what we believe the government should do as the last gatekeeper. [The company] has been making money every year. It's just that the return is not high enough,' he added. Lawmakers have invited tunnel and government officials to another subcommittee meeting next week to discuss the issue further.