Hong Kong government must rethink its vision for tunnel tolls
When a long-standing problem drags on without any solution in sight, there are reasons to believe that officials are just side-stepping the issue. The severe traffic congestion caused by uneven cross-harbour tunnel tolls is an example. Successive governments have vowed to tackle the problem but regrettably little has been done. Even when there is an opportunity for change, officials seem reluctant to seize it.
With the Eastern Harbour Tunnel still managed by a consortium under a special 30-year agreement, officials have said their hands are tied. But hopes are running high that the government will have more room to manoeuvre when the agreement expires in August next year. The bad news is that no immediate toll adjustments will be made.
The appropriate time for a change would only come when the Central-Wan Chai bypass was ready for use, a transport adviser quoted the government as saying. But the completion date of the bypass remains uncertain, as officials said the project, due to be completed in 2017, had encountered difficulties.
That the government is not prepared to do anything when it takes over the eastern tunnel is disappointing. The transport chief has expressed doubt whether cutting tolls at the eastern tunnel would help divert traffic from the Cross-Harbour Tunnel linking Causeway Bay and Hung Hom, saying the eastern tunnel was reaching full capacity. But until there is empirical evidence to support the claim, the public will not be convinced.
Public expectation was raised when the issue was taken up by Leung Chun-ying and became part of his election platform. With his current term having just 20 months to go, the chief executive is under growing pressure to deliver on that pledge. Officials may think getting stuck in traffic is no big deal. But for a commercial city like Hong Kong, every minute counts. The takeover of the eastern tunnel has opened the door for a much-needed change in cross-harbour traffic control. Hopefully, it won't be too long before we see light at the end of the tunnel.