How scrapping tunnel tolls could free up Hong Kong’s roads
John Patkin says radical changes customised for the local situation are needed urgently, especially in light of the effects of emissions on public health and global warming
Hong Kong’s transport chaos is probably not as bad as we think. During a recent trip through the Cross-Harbour Tunnel at a snail’s pace, I believe I found a solution to our urban traffic woes: abolish tunnel fees, introduce a compulsory vehicle tag system, and reward companies that make off-peak deliveries.
It makes sense in light of reports that Hong Kong just saw its third hottest December on record and a Canadian study found people living near roads may suffer from pollution-induced dementia.
Ditching tunnel fees would allow drivers to choose the most convenient route, instead of what they assume is the cheapest. It would also eliminate the need for permanent fixtures. Demolishing toll booths and other fixed barriers would provide more flexibility for maintenance and streamlining of traffic. And an intuitive system involving electronic vehicle tracking and road use could utilise what is called “floating car data” to incorporate the new space.
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Compulsory vehicle tags, as employed in Australia and Israel, would allow the government to monitor traffic more closely, automate parking tickets, and offer rebates to firms such as retail chains for off-peak deliveries.
However, such radical changes should be customised for the local environment. For example, tagging should not be used to tax drivers for access to space, as that would have the same effect as the current tunnel charges – they would pick a cheaper route even though it would take longer and so increase emission time. Traffic engineers would also need to sort out the tunnel feeds, especially on Hong Kong Island, though this may dissipate with the completion of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass.
Bean counters may argue that radical changes to road tax will cost the government millions, but that should be a short-term problem.
It could be offset by revenue from stricter enforcement of parking spaces, increased productivity due to shorter travel times, and a drop in the cost of pollution-related health care due to falling emissions. Fuel tax and licence fees could also be hiked.
Such radical changes may not be the government’s biggest fiscal concern. If current technological advances in unmanned solar-powered drones continue, roads and cars will become redundant, while 3D printing has the potential to limit the entire manufacturing process, using electronic data to produce material goods.
Unmanned drones could also deliver food, unless it is robotically cultivated using hydroponics on rooftops and balconies.
The future looks positively exciting, but the local problems related to our space and air need to be solved with urgency, as they pose a danger to our health.
John Patkin is a research assistant at the Education University of Hong Kong