Electronic road pricing plan for Hong Kong’s Central district slammed by local councillors

Government should instead target rampant illegal parking in business district as way to ease congestion, they say

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 March, 2016, 7:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 March, 2016, 7:00am

Central district councillors on Thursday united in bashing the government’s plan to introduce electronic road pricing in the neighbourhood, saying the policy by itself could not ease chronic road congestion and pollution in Hong Kong’s core business district.

They argued the government should instead prioritise confronting problems such as rampant illegal parking and the lack of parking spaces.

Liberal Party councillor Joseph Chan Ho-lim, representing the Peak constituency, said the root cause of traffic jams in Central was widespread double-parking in key arteries such as Queen’s Road Central and Chater Road.

“Right now, the problem of severe congestion in Central is not about more cars or fewer cars coming to Central. The problem is the cars in Central don’t move at all,” said Chan. “Why the cars don’t move? It’s because of illegal parking ... parts of the roads are always blocked.

“What angers me the most is when the police and traffic officers see illegal parking, they don’t issue a ticket and just ask them to leave.”

Council vice-chairman Chan Hok-fung questioned why a road tax was needed at all.

“It’s illegal parking. We said this 90,000 times in district council ... but nothing was done to alleviate [it],” said Chan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong . “We are going to have the Central-Wan Chai Bypass. Is there a need to do electronic road pricing? Why can’t we wait until the bypass is opened?”

The bypass is a highway being built to alleviate congestion in Central, but it will not open in 2017 as scheduled because of technical difficulties.

Cheng lai-king, of the Democratic Party, worried the road tax would be implemented at the expense of residents in Mid-Levels.

“I felt angry after reading the documents,” Cheng said. “It’s punishing the residents of Mid-Levels. Some streets in the area aren’t served by public transport and driving is a must.”

Kam Nai-wai, of Sheung Wan constituency, blamed the government for creating the congestion in the first place because of poor town planning.

“There is so much commercial development in Central. This was the reason why there was so much more traffic into the area in the first place,” he said. “There is a car park in Murray Road but [the government] is planning to remove it.”

In response, principal assistant secretary for Transport and Housing (Transport), Cordelia Lam Wai-ki, reiterated the administration currently holds “an open attitude” on electronic road pricing, which is only one of the 12 suggestions it was studying to ease traffic jams in the city.

“We are not only relying on electronic road pricing to solve traffic congestion,” said Lam. “Last year, the Transport Advisory Committee suggested to increase fixed the penalty for illegal parking by 50 per cent from HK$320 to HK$488. We are working on it.

“As to the details of [electronic road pricing], we haven’t set any framework and we want to hear your voice.”

The public consultation on the road tax ends next Friday.