Why Hong Kong should bear with Western Harbour Tunnel tolls until 2023
I refer to the letter from Hubert Hiew (“Western Harbour Tunnel must lower its price or face government takeover”, June 24) and your editorial of June 5 (“Greater political will needed on Hong Kong cross-harbour tunnels”).
For the Hong Kong government to take over the Western tunnel is not an option. As the tunnel is a private asset, the government has no statutory power to force the company to sell.
Your editorial suggested “subsidising the use of the Western Harbour Tunnel and raising the tolls at the other two cross-harbour tunnels”. At first, I was inclined to support this, thinking it would be an effective way to reduce traffic congestion in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and increase the utilisation of the Western one, save time and fuel, and reduce air pollution.
The Western Harbour Tunnel Company invested a lot in building the tunnel, and this supported infrastructure development in Hong Kong. The company made its contribution, it seemed reasonable that they be rewarded. As they keep reiterating that usage is short of expectations, I thought it was reasonable for the government to help it.
However, I was shocked to read the West Harbour Tunnel Company’s 2017 annual report. The toll revenue was HK$1.68 billion, an annual increase of 6.7 per cent. The net profit was about HK$1.01 billion, an increase of 9 per cent.
As the project cost was HK$7 billion, this means the company is enjoying an annual return rate of 14.3 per cent, while that of the public annuity scheme is barely 4 per cent (“Hong Kong’s public annuity scheme: are the elderly being short-changed?”, July 12).
It is never appropriate to subsidise an already lucrative business. This would only benefit businessmen. The money would be better spent on the education or medical sectors. Anyway, the company’s 30-year franchise ends in 2023, maybe motorists could bear with it for a few more years.
Patrick Mak, To Kwa Wan