Electronic pricing 'needed to cut jams'

AN electronic road pricing system should be put on trial in Hong Kong because problems which once stirred up public worries had been addressed by improved technology, Meeting Point member Hung Wing-tat said yesterday.

Mr Hung, a Hong Kong Polytechnic lecturer, said the system would decrease congestion in some of the busiest areas.

Improved technology had addressed problems which once caused wide opposition.

Under a road pricing system, cars entering congested roads are electronically ''tagged'' and fees are deducted from the drivers' accounts. The autopass system at the Cross Harbour Tunnel operates on this principle.

''For example, privacy is no longer a problem. It is just the same as passing through the gates of the MTR,'' he said at the City Forum yesterday.

The Government put forward the plan in the mid-1980s but it was withdrawn after strong opposition over concerns about infringement of privacy.

Mr Hung suggested that a special fund collected from road fees be set up to finance administrative costs.

He said the fund, which would be monitored by legislators, should also be used to improve road signalling and reduce environmental pollution caused by road works.

Assistant Commissioner for Transport Lee Shu-chee said the Government was considering whether an electronic road pricing system would be introduced.

Other options to improve traffic congestion were also being studied and opinions were being gathered from the public.

Measures had to be introduced to address the situation. Up to 2,000 new cars entered Hong Kong each month.

A special working team has been set up to study various ways of curbing road congestion.

However, Legco Transport Panel chairman Miriam Lau Kin-yee had strong reservations about road pricing.

She said it would be irresponsible for the Government to resort to fiscal measures without exhausting other means.

The Government should improve its road management work and strictly enforce traffic regulations.

Ms Lau also suggested the arrangements for road digging be reviewed, claiming that they were a cause of much traffic congestion.

Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Automobile Association Kendy Chan said the Government should not further increase the financial burden on car owners.

They already contributed up to nine per cent of the Government's total revenue.