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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Realignment of tunnel tolls is long overdue

  • Lawmakers must put politics aside when they vote on the proposals on Wednesday, as procrastination will only worsen congestion
PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 January, 2019, 12:34am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 January, 2019, 6:18am

A long overdue move by the government to tackle the city’s notorious cross-harbour traffic congestion ought to win instant cross-party support.

Lamentably, a non-binding motion seeking to spread the uneven usage of the three tunnels via toll rises and subsidies is on the brink of defeat.

 Congestion will only worsen if we continue to take a back seat. We urge lawmakers to put public interest above politics and give the green light to the proposals on Wednesday.

This sorry state of affairs owes much to the inaction of previous governments. There were no shortage of consultancy studies and ideas over the past decade, but it was not until last year that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor came up with concrete proposals.

The delay was partly attributed to the need to wait until the opening of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass to help divert traffic.

Meanwhile, vehicle growth continues unchecked. Lam, to her credit, swiftly put the issue on the government’s agenda.

She is said to have personally struck the deal with stakeholders, under which tolls for the underutilised Western Cross Harbour Tunnel will be slashed and subsidised by the government, while those for the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and Eastern Harbour Tunnel will be raised.

Unpopular as they are, the increases seem inevitable if vehicles are to be diverted from the two overused tunnels.

The partial opening of the bypass yesterday also gives a good opportunity to try out the adjustments. Unfortunately, rational thinking does not always prevail in politics, especially when the district council and Legislative Council polls are due in the coming years.

Government may shelve tunnel toll increases after allies desert

Officials warn that if the motion is rejected, no action will be taken at least until mid-2023, when the western tunnel’s franchise expires. The take-it-or-leave-it attitude will not win lawmakers’ support.

A year after the proposed adjustments are in place in 2020, queues at the two overused tunnels are expected to be reduced by 34 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively, during morning rush hours, and 42 per cent and 29 per cent in the evenings.

This translates into 19,400 hours less in commuting time on public transport each day and an annual HK$800 million in savings in social costs and 3,200 tonnes less of carbon emission every year.

Transport minister calls on lawmakers to support tunnel toll rises

All these are of course just estimates by the government. The actual effectiveness of the measures are still uncertain. But what is sure, though, is that inaction will only aggravate the situation. Whether there will be light at the end of the tunnel depends on how lawmakers vote on Wednesday. There will be no winners if the motion is rejected.

Officials could sit back and do nothing, while lawmakers blame the government for rejecting their counter-proposals. The real losers are commuters.