Authorities urged to scrap planned tolls for Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge
Possible toll set to be discussed at public hearing next month in mainland city
Leaders from the cross-border transport industry on Tuesday urged Guangdong officials to make the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge free to all users as the provincial government invited Hongkongers to discuss toll levels at an unprecedented public hearing.
Set to be hosted in Zhuhai in mid-December, the hearing will be the first to draw opinions directly from people living in three cities affected by a cross-border facility since Guangdong imposed new rules to increase the transparency of government pricing in July 2010.
According to a notice Guangdong authorities issued on Tuesday, 24 people will be invited to attend the hearing, including experts, scholars, officials, business operators and 15 potential bridge users from Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland.
Chinese nationals aged 18 or older with a “strong sense of social responsibility and justice” can apply to attend as one of the 15 potential users. The final panellists will be randomly selected from those applicants.
At present, the Guangdong Provincial Development and Reform Commission, the province’s top economic planning authority, intends to collect tolls to pay off the loans for construction of the bridge and cover daily maintenance.
Only a limited number of privately owned vehicles will be able to use the bridge. Up to 3,000 Hong Kong drivers and 300 mainland drivers will get permits to drive across the bridge and in destination cities. Other vehicles with permits for using other routes between Hong Kong and Shenzhen will be able to use the bridge without an extra licence for two years.
Stanley Tandon Lal Chaing, chairman of the Lok Ma Chau China-Hong Kong Freight Association, said he would suggest making the bridge free for users if his application to attend the public hearing was accepted.
“It is short-sighted to charge people to use a bridge that was built to boost economic and popular exchanges among the three cities,” Chaing said.
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Chaing said the governments could afford the cost of construction and the bridge would bring economic benefits “in astronomical figures”, for example through real estate development near the borders, which he said should not be compromised by the financial burden of bridge tolls.
“If they have to charge something, one container truck should pay less than HK$100 for a round trip,” Chaing said.
Frankie Yick Chi-ming, chairman of the Legislative Council’s transport panel, said whether the collection of tolls would be enough to cover the construction cost depended on a number of factors, including the number of years governments would have to clear the debt.
Yick said the quota of cars allowed on the bridge could be expanded if necessary.
Lam Cheuk-ting, vice-chairman of the panel and a democrat, ridiculed the idea of charging bridge users a toll.
“The Hong Kong government told Legco that recovering the construction cost was not their concern,” Lam said.
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Lam said if tolls were collected to pay back the loans, the fees would be so high that the promised economic benefits would be affected because fewer people would use the bridge.
Alan Chan Chung-yee, chairman of the China-Hong Kong-Macau Boundary Crossing Bus Association said tolls should follow the general standard for motorways in Guangdong.
Currently, passenger cars are charged between 0.6 yuan to 2.1 yuan per kilometre on motorways with six or more lanes in the province.
Chan said if he was able to go to the hearing he would suggest doubling the quota for cross-border buses on the bridge to 700 rides per day.
The 42km bridge, which connects Lantau Island, Zhuhai and Macau, is expected to be ready for service by the end of the year, while some facilities at the Hong Kong section, including tunnels and connecting routes, may need another one to three years to be completed, according to the Highways Department.
According to records published on the official website for the bridge, the Legco Finance Committee has approved more than HK$110 billion for major and supporting projects for the bridge.
On Tuesday, the Transport and Housing Bureau disclosed that the Hong Kong government would have to pat a share of an overrun cost of 10 billion yuan (HK$11.18 billion), of which the exact amount was yet to be confirmed.