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Traffic and road safety in Hong Kong

When will Hong Kong motorcycle users get the green light for electronic tolls?

  • Toll booths present a huge inconvenience and danger to motorcyclists
  • The Hong Kong public deserve an explanation as to why motorcyclists continue to be put at risk
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2018, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2018, 11:14pm

Technology has come a long way since the first vehicle passed through an electronic toll collection (ETC) lane in the Aberdeen tunnel way back in 1993. Yet surprisingly, 25 years later, motorcycles are still unable to use the system in Hong Kong’s tunnels.

Around three years ago, sticker tags were implemented to replace the need for the bulky battery dependent tags, and (as stated in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel’s 2016 annual report) to “extend the ETC service to motorcycles”. This technology has been in place for some time, so why are motorcycles still unable to use the service? 

Toll booths present a huge inconvenience and danger to motorcyclists. The road surface leading up to, and adjacent to, each booth is treacherously thick with oil and grease from cars and trucks. This makes stopping hazardous, particularly in wet weather. To pay a toll, motorcyclists often need to remove gloves to be able to handle notes and coins (Octopus has helped somewhat, but is not available across all toll locations).

Wet weather adds another challenge to dig out cash from under layers of waterproof and protective clothing, together with the additional danger of reduced visibility preventing larger vehicles from spotting a stationary motorcycle in the booth ahead. Following the recent Typhoon Mangkhut, the centre of tunnel lanes in the Western Harbour Crossing were littered with broken glass for over a week.

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While the majority of motorists are broadly tolerant of the short delay we cause to their journey, a significant number are impatient and show little consideration. On several occasions, I have been subject to hostile behaviour, ranging from horn-blowing, to verbal abuse, to being aggressively cut off by drivers looking to make up the time they believe I have cost them.

Two years ago, I started a dialogue with Autotoll requesting an explanation. I was told that preparations were nearly complete, and that the service would finally be opened to motorcycles in around a year. Twelve months came and went, and nothing changed. I was then told in January that Autotoll had “submitted (an) application to the authorities”, and that Autotoll would “work closely and liaise with that parties concerned to speed up the launch”.

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Motorcyclists have been campaigning for equal treatment since the service first became available. Letters and company responses have been published in the SCMP as far back as 2002. Some pilot schemes have come and gone, but their results have never been publicly shared.

In September 2017, the Smart City Consortium “cited the need to address the motorcyclist’s equal access rights and perhaps allow innovative technology companies to also offer electronic toll collections for motorcycles”. Both Autotoll and the government cannot possibly claim to be unaware of the problem, and its significance.

I am unsure whether it is incompetence, apathy, obtuse government bureaucracy or monopolistic arrogance that is preventing implementation. The statement on the Autotoll website, “Autotoll endeavours to provide a convenient, efficient and reliable toll payment service to all road users in Hong Kong and is widely accepted by toll collection operators and users”, reads as empty rhetoric.

Last month marked the 20th anniversary of Autotoll Limited. After 20 years of operation, I feel that the Hong Kong public deserve an explanation as to why motorcyclists continue to be put at risk, and remain a daily inconvenience to Hong Kong’s tunnel users.

Nick Murray, Yuen Long