‘Historic’ first day on Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge gives top businessman Allan Zeman feeling of being ‘reborn’
- Journey through three cities reduces concern about inclement weather affecting travel plans, he says
- 55km bridge hailed as ‘hassle-free’ and a ‘game changer’
Hong Kong-based businessman Allan Zeman felt as if he were reborn riding for the first time in his car to Macau on Wednesday, thanks to the new mega bridge linking the city to the casino hub.
The chairman of gaming firm Wynn Macau and founder of entertainment precinct Lan Kwai Fong called it a “historic day” as he rested comfortably in his black Mercedes-Benz, embarking on a tour from his office in Central to Macau and Zhuhai through the world’s longest sea crossing.
The 55km Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge opened for traffic at 9am Wednesday, another milestone in the central government’s goal of turning the three cities linked together with eight others in Guangdong province into an IT-led economic engine meant to rival Silicon Valley in the United States. The project took about eight years to complete and overshot its budget by billions of dollars, with Hong Kong forking out HK$120 billion.
Zeman, wearing his signature black suit and white shirt, traced his preparations for this day to the beginning of this year, when he applied for a driving licence from the mainland as well as a car plate that would permit him to use the bridge.
“For me, it’s a breath of fresh air,” Zeman said during the ride. “It is a revelation ... as if I were reborn.”
To get to Macau previously, he added, he “used to take a ferry or a helicopter”. Now weather that once worried him was no longer a factor. “I can get into the car, just drive through the border.”
Having left Central at 10.40am, Zeman arrived within 35 minutes at the Hong Kong boundary-crossing building on an artificial island next to the airport after passing both the Tsing Ma Bridge and North Lantau Highway.
Traffic was sparse at the Hong Kong port when the car pulled into a kiosk for customs officers to check passengers’ ID cards. Within minutes, Zeman was cleared to proceed, never having to exit the vehicle.
“We left immigration in Hong Kong, it was so simple,” he said. “I didn’t have any hassles. I saw so many buses going back and forth.”
Reflecting further, he added: “It’s a new world for Hong Kong. We’ve seen trucks with merchandise or goods. In the past you couldn’t do this and you had to go through Shenzhen, which took a long, long time.
“This is half an hour on the bridge ... It’s a game changer for Hong Kong.”
The car went more slowly than the speed limit of 100km so that Zeman and his fellow passengers could enjoy the panoramic views of the sea and sky. At the Macau port, the driver automatically paid 150 yuan in tolls courtesy of a gadget on board.
To get on the bridge and drive to Macau, Zeman was required to register with the city’s authorities for a space at its 3,000-space car park at the checkpoint on the artificial island off Gongbei. Upon crossing the checkpoint, he switched over to public transport to get to the city centre, located about 8km away.
However, on this occasion, Zeman was unable to park in the lot because registration was required at least 12 hours in advance.
The other way to drive beyond the Macau checkpoint is to obtain a special permit. Hong Kong officials grant up to 300, and each is valid for three years. To date, the Transport Department said only about 200 permits had been issued.
Later Zeman took a detour to Zhuhai, its checkpoint situated next to the Macau port on the same artificial island.
Clearing customs in Zhuhai proved smooth, given there were no other travellers in sight.
To drive to the mainland city, one needs a mainland driving licence and a car permit. Hong Kong officials have issued 5,000 permits for private cars, and plan to issue an additional 3,000 in the next three months. The permits are valid for five years.
For the last leg of his ride, from Zhuhai to Central district in Hong Kong, Zeman took slightly more than an hour – far less than the four hours it previously took to travel between the cities.
“Time is money for businessmen,” he said, adding that he thought more people would “live in Zhuhai and Macau” and that they might have “a better quality of life over there”.
As of 3pm, a total of 868 vehicular trips were made on the bridge, according to its authority.
Denise Tsang was reporting from Macau and Zhuhai