Lantau toll plaza traffic chaos was ‘sheer maladministration’ by Hong Kong officials
Ombudsman says ‘obvious lack of a well-thought-out plan’ for launch of two-way toll arrangement on Lantau Link last year resulted in tailbacks stretching almost 3km
Hong Kong’s Ombudsman has slammed as “sheer maladministration” the government’s handling last year of new toll collection arrangements for the only major road to the city’s airport.
The new set-up caused traffic mayhem on the Lantau Link just a day after implementation in August 2017, with tailbacks at their peak stretching almost 15km.
An investigation report released by the watchdog on Thursday said the chaos could have easily been avoided if the Transport Department had sent higher-level officers to the scene to implement simple contingency measures such as rearranging traffic barriers.
Two-way toll collection for Hong Kong’s only road to Lantau Island was launched on August 20 last year, a Sunday. But come Monday it could not cope with the volume of traffic.
The highway quickly descended into chaos from about 7am as rush hour dawned. By 7.18am tailbacks spanned 2.8km to Ma Wan island, according to the investigation.
“This showed that [temporary traffic arrangements] formulated beforehand could hardly cope with the actual traffic situation during peak hours, and were the major technical factor,” the report stated.
“But a more important cause was the obvious lack of a well-thought-out plan for any contingency situation on that day.”
The department had set up an operations centre at the toll plaza to monitor the situation, the report said, but only deployed two low-ranking officers with no authority to adjust the original traffic plans.
Altering the plans could have involved “critical safety considerations” and “could only have been done after careful discussion between relevant departments and the [toll plaza operator]”, the department said.
It was not until 8.05am that transport officials requested a meeting with various government departments and the operator. Another hour passed before they met at the scene.
By 9am the gridlock spanned 10km, according to the report.
“After senior transport officers arrived and liaised with police, they came up with new contingency measures, including opening more toll lanes and removing some traffic barriers. The situation then started improving,” Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing said as she presented the report on Thursday.
At 11am traffic was running smoothly again.
“We do not know why the department sent two officers who were not authorised to activate contingency measures,” Lau said. “It was the first working day after the new toll collection system was implemented. The department should not have taken it so lightly.
“The Lantau Link is the only road access to Lantau Island and the airport before the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge comes into service.”
Hong Kong International Airport handled 72.9 million passengers and 5.05 million tonnes of cargo and mail last year, Lau said. “There are more than 73,000 people working there. It is not difficult to imagine the consequences if the traffic is disrupted,” she said.
For years, tolls for the Lantau Link were only collected on a round-trip basis when motorists left Lantau, to save time and administrative costs. It allowed cars heading towards Lantau to travel unimpeded through three lanes at the toll plaza.
But under the new arrangement, Lantau-bound vehicles must pass by toll booths or through autotoll lanes to pay.
The two-way system was introduced to prepare for the 55km Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, set to open on Tuesday, after which the Lantau Link will no longer be the only road to Lantau.