Better planning would have avoided the chaos that paralysed access to the airport
The Transport Department clearly failed to think through the logistics when implementing the change to the toll collection system on the Lantau Link
Traffic congestion is nothing unusual in Hong Kong. But when the only road linking the city to the airport and a major new town on the largest outlying island was paralysed for hours because of measures ill thought out by transport authorities, the public can be excused for feeling outraged. Officials swiftly rectified the problem and apologised for the inconvenience caused to commuters on Monday. But the mayhem does nothing for our image as Asia’s world city.
The new toll system implemented by the Transport Department on the Lantau Link caused traffic to back up as far as the Tuen Mun interchange during the morning rush hour. Some taxi drivers said it had taken an extra hour for passengers to reach the airport. The 15km traffic jams only eased when more toll booths were opened in the afternoon. By yesterday, the traffic was largely back to normal.
The department is to blame for failing to alert motorists to the change in the toll collection method. Previously, vehicles entered Lantau freely and paid a double toll of HK$30 when leaving the island. But as the link will no longer be the only access to the island following the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge later this year, a two-way collection system was brought in on Sunday.
Officials denied that there was poor planning or lack of foresight, saying inbound traffic on Monday was within expectations. But they obviously underestimated the impact arising from the change. With tens of thousands of vehicles being funnelled into six toll booths, the bottleneck can be imagined. The flow was further impeded as many drivers were unaware of the new HK$15 levy and did not prepare the exact amount. The situation was also not helped by the authorities failing to prepare enough HK$5 coins for change.
The government had its reasons for not delaying the two-way toll system until the bridge opened, saying it could cause accidents if motorists hesitated over whether to stop at booths that were already in place. While that may be so, officials clearly failed to think through the logistics when implementing the change.
The chaos could have been avoided had there been more careful planning and assessment.