My Take

Bypass the bypass and adjust cross-harbour tunnel tolls now

The government controls two of the three crossings yet is sitting on its hands as congestion worsens – all because it wants to boast about the Central-Wan Chai Bypass

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 12:30am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2016, 12:30am

Sometimes you have to wonder what our highly paid bureaucrats do all day.

The government has just taken over the Eastern Harbour Tunnel from New Hong Kong Tunnel Company after the expiration of the company’s 30-year franchise. Cross-harbour traffic and congestion on the north of Hong Kong Island from Central to North Point have been constant topics and complaints for decades. Transport officials have had more than four years under the Leung Chun-ying government to study what to do once it takes over a second harbour tunnel. But no, they seem to have been surprised and need to sit on the problem for another two years before making a decision.

Or so it seems.

When asked about toll adjustments, transport and housing chief Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said there would be no changes at least until 2018, when a study on how to rationalise traffic flow in the three cross-harbour tunnels would be handed to the legislature.

It’s surely not his intention, but doesn’t he realise this makes his bureau and the Transport Department under it look incompetent and foolish?

Calls renew for lower Eastern Harbour Tunnel tolls after government takeover

If they adjusted the tolls now for the two harbour tunnels under the government’s control, traffic would at least improve somewhat until the Central-Wan Chai Bypass opens either next year or in 2018, depending on how bad the delay is.

The Cross-Harbour Tunnel is supposed to handle 78,000 vehicles a day. Last year, an average of 115,722 vehicles drove through it each day. The eastern tunnel is slightly underutilised as it can handle 78,500 vehicles. Last year, it took in a daily average traffic of 75,469 vehicles.

Officials could easily adjust the tolls now to divert some traffic to the eastern tunnel. So why not? The government will also take over the western tunnel in 2023, by which time a sensible price regime can be imposed on all the cross-harbour routes.

But as far as the government is concerned, everything depends on the bypass’ completion. Having sold the public on how essential this expensive bypass and its controversial harbour reclamation are, transport officials want to make sure it looks like a success when it opens in easing traffic. So no cross-harbour toll adjustments – a simple if temporary and relatively cheap solution – would be allowed to distract from the bypass’ anticipated fabulous effects on northern Hong Kong Island traffic.