Agents eye big profits as applications open for licences to cross border at Hong Kong-Zhuhai bridge
Members of business and political elite eligible for one of 3,000 permits up for grabs, provided they have made the right contributions
Members of the business and political elite can from Friday apply for one of 3,000 cross-border licences to use on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, with agencies gearing up to tap into what looks like being a sellers’ market, charging up to half a million yuan for one permit.
The permits will be limited, and offered only to people or companies who have made certain financial or political contributions on the mainland.
Up to 3,000 private Hong Kong cars will be able to use the bridge, along with the existing 29,600 and 3,300 existing cross-border-licensed cars in Hong Kong and the mainland, and 140 shuttle buses.
Citizens or companies can apply for a licence, but the licences pertain to a specific vehicle. They will allow the car to drive across the bridge and then anywhere on the other side, on the mainland or Hong Kong.
Undert traffic arrangements revealed so far, anyone without a licensed car will have to take a shuttle bus to cross the bridge. Cars with existing cross-border permits will be allowed to cross the bridge without an extra permit for two years after it opens.
The Y-shaped 42km bridge is set to open by the end of 2017, a year later than originally planned.
According to the Guangdong province public security authority, Hong Kong companies which have paid total tax of 100,000 yuan (HK$118,621) in the past three years, or which have been recognised as a national hi-tech enterprise, can apply.
Hong Kong residents who have donated more than 5 million yuan to charities in Guangdong, or who sit on the National People’s Congress or the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, will also be eligible.
Those criteria are less stringent than those for the current cross-border driving licences, for which applicants needed to be a Hong Kong resident who has made an investment of 8 million yuan in the non-mountainous areas in Guangdong and paid 300,000 yuan in tax.
State-owned travel agency China Travel Service will charge about HK$800 for the new permit, the same as for the existing ones.
But anyone looking to apply for a licence through a private agency will have to pay a lot more than the standard rate.
Two days before applications started, a cross-border car plate agency asked a Post reporter posing as a potential applicant to pay 500,000 yuan.
A second agency said they could not only get a licence for a Hong Kong car, but could apply one for a mainland car at the much lower cost of 30,000 to 50,000 yuan.
But a third agency said the permits had already been snapped up.
“All the 3,000 [from the quota] have gone,” a man surnamed Chan at the third agency said, reminding the reporter to be careful of any agency asking for “only 5,000 or 50,000 yuan for one permit” and advance payment.
It was unclear whether the prices quoted included charges for the applications for the various business registrations needed to prove eligibility.
Transport and business representatives welcomed the relaxed criteria for the new batch of cross-border licences, but said the number of licences should be increased.
Joe Chau Kwok-ming, president of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Small and Medium Business said the licence could ease investors’ expansion into the western part of the Pearl River Delta.
“Though investment cost in the west [of the Delta] is lower than the east, many have been in some way hindered by the inconvenient transportation,” Chau said.
According to the government’s estimate, the bridge will slash driving time from Zhuhai to Hong Kong International Airport from four hours to 45 minutes.
Frankie Yick Chi-ming, who represents the transport sector in the Legislative Council, also said some local businesspeople hoped to see the quota get bigger than 3,000.
“The easing of criteria benefits the Hong Kong investors to some extent,” he said.
But a member of the China Hong Kong and Macau Boundary Crossing Bus Association worried the relaxed application criteria would fuel abuses of the permits by smugglers or operators of illegal cross-border taxi services.
The member, who requested anonymity, said that the cross-boundary licences had long been commodified with companies or factories that closed down selling their car plates for illegal purposes.