I won’t change tunnel tolls plan, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says
Chief executive accused of adopting ‘take it or leave it’ attitude to proposal of raising fees on two tunnels, while lowering them on Western Harbour Tunnel
The government would not change its plan to hike tolls on two of Hong Kong’s cross-harbour tunnels, and it was up to the legislature to accept it or shoot it down, the chief executive said on Thursday.
“If Legco approves it, we implement it. But if Legco doesn’t approve it, there’s nothing we can do,” Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told a radio programme on Thursday.
But lawmakers from both sides of the political divide were hesitant to back the proposal, to raise tolls on the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and the Eastern Harbour Tunnel, while lowering them on the Western Harbour Tunnel.
Unveiled in Lam’s Wednesday policy address, it is intended to nudge more drivers to use the western tunnel, easing congestion at the others.
Private cars will pay HK$40 (US$5.10) to cross the first two tunnels – up from HK$20 and HK$25 – while crossing the western tunnel will cost HK$50 – HK$20 less than the current charge. The government proposed compensating the operator for its losses from the plan, which it hoped to bring in at the start of 2020.
Lam said she expected some pro-establishment legislators to oppose the change because any rise in public transport fares or tolls is contentious.
“But I don’t want [transport officials] to be summoned to the legislature every day to talk about something that no one has a solution for,” she said.
Later, at a question-and-answer session at Legco, Lam told lawmakers “there is no painless proposal”.
She was responding to lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan, who questioned the plan’s effectiveness.
Chan, of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, noted drivers would be affected by hikes on two tunnels, and said increased use of the Western Harbour Tunnel – running from Austin to Sheung Wan – could add to congestion in the areas.
Lam said the proposal was based on results from a Transport Department study.
Should Legco reject the plan, Lam warned, the government could only make changes after 2023, when the contracts with tunnel operators expire.
As the proposal required the endorsement from the private company that runs the western tunnel, Lam said there was no room for adjustments.
“It is a package,” Lam said, noting that the government had reached an in-principle agreement with the Western Harbour Tunnel Company.
Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho said he was dissatisfied with Lam’s “take it or leave it” attitude.
“[The government] is taking the public hostage,” Tam said.
Pro-establishment legislator Michael Tien Puk-sun said the hike on the Cross-Harbour Tunnel – from Hung Hom to Causeway Bay – would not be enough to drive private cars away.
Transport sector legislator Frankie Yick Chi-ming, of the Liberal Party, voiced support for the proposal.
More closely aligning the tolls on the three tunnels “will definitely achieve the purpose of diversion”, he said.