I REFER to C.K. Lau's article headlined 'Don't drive middle class off the road' (South China Morning Post, November 22) on the package of measures to address traffic congestion which is presently the subject of a public consultation exercise. Perhaps I should make it clear at the outset that the aim of our proposal is not to drive motorists off the road but, as an immediate objective, to seek to reduce the rate of growth in the numbers of private vehicles from the current 10 per cent per annum to about two to three per cent per annum. If we do not achieve this then we risk traffic gridlock, which would have very serious consequences for everyone. It is because we seek to slow the growth in private vehicle numbers that we have proposed increases in First Registration Tax. The percentage increase proposed is higher for small cars because this is the sector where growth is greatest (78 per cent of new registrations). The proposed increase in Annual Licence Fees will do no more than restore the real value of the fees by taking account of inflation in the period since the last adjustment. In the longer term, we propose the introduction of electronic road pricing which will charge for road usage. This will be a fairer and more flexible system in that it will not seek to limit car ownership, but rather to restrict the usage of vehicles at peak hours in the busiest areas. Mr Lau says that even now very few owners of small cars can afford to drive to work. But the fact is that private cars are the biggest single component of peak hour road traffic, amounting to between 40 per cent and 50 per cent on most roads, and more than 60 per cent in the Cross Harbour Tunnel. The number of licensed private cars has increased by one-third in the last three years and is continuing to grow by about 10 per cent per annum. Although we are spending $30 billion on new roads in the next five years (more than ever before) no achievable road building programme can hope to keep pace with vehicle growth at the scale now being experienced. Mr Lau suggests that simply by raising cross harbour tunnel tolls to a high enough level, overall congestion will be relieved. I wish this was the case. However, while the number of private cars continues to increase at current rates, we risk gridlock on most major roads and not just those leading to the tunnels. His other suggestions of car pooling and banning cars carrying fewer than four passengers have been carefully considered in the past. There are real practical difficulties in implementing them and they would be unlikely to have a significant impact on the problem. I do agree with Mr Lau that we need to speed up the development of public transport services. Much is already being done in this field. Around $500 million will be spent by the bus companies on new buses in the next 12 months. The MTRC and KCRC are improving their signalling equipment with a view to boosting railway capacity by 10 per cent and 25 per cent respectively, and a Railway Development Strategy will soon be announced. In addition, there are plans to further expand and improve ferry services. We are grateful to the Post for their contribution to the on-going debate on measures to address traffic congestion. I would encourage your readers to obtain copies of the public consultation document on the subject (available from CNTA District Officers, Transport Department Licensing Offices, and the Government Publications Centre) and to comment before the deadline of January 31, 1995.