Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge date leaves bus companies ‘in a spin’ as they scramble to get ready
- Hong Kong transport minister says bridge will open to public next Wednesday
- But bus companies had expected to get two months’ notice, and some vehicles haven’t passed inspections, while not all drivers are qualified
The world’s longest sea crossing will begin operations next week it was confirmed on Friday, but the abrupt announcement has left Hong Kong’s bus companies scrambling to get ready in time.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan revealed the cross-border Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge would start operations from Wednesday.
But some bus firms have complained about the short notice and said the government had promised to give them two months to get ready.
“We are in a spin,” said Au Shui-hing, vice-chairman of One Bus Hong Kong Macau.
The official opening will be a day after the opening ceremony for the bridge, in which Hong Kong has invested HK$120 billion so far.
Although President Xi Jinping is expected to attend the ceremony on October 23 in Zhuhai, without crossing the border to the Hong Kong side, Chan said he did not know whether any national leaders would officiate at the ceremony, because the event was being arranged by mainland China.
When in service, the bridge will shorten trips from Zhuhai to the Hong Kong International Airport from four hours to 45 minutes, while journeys between Zhuhai and the Kwai Chung Container Port are expected to drop from about 3½ hours, to around 1¼ hours.
There will be 24-hour shuttle bus services between the three cities from port to port, running every five minutes during peak hours, every 10 to 15 minutes during non-peak period and every 15 to 30 minutes overnight.
Each trip costs HK$65 during the day, and HK$70 at night.
Passengers can also take coaches operated by different companies, running from various locations in Hong Kong, and a selection of destinations on the mainland, and in Macau.
But, some coach operators have complained about only being given five days notice.
Au, whose One Bus Hong Kong Macau company will provide a fleet of 19 coaches running between Kwun Tong and the gambling hub, said four of the company’s coaches had not completed vehicle inspections, while two of its drivers had yet to secure a licence. Some documents were still unready, he added.
“It was a great loss as we have invested so much into the business,” Au said, adding that he believed the full fleet could only come into service around October 26.
Matthew Wong Leung-pak, chairman of Kwoon Chung Bus Holdings, whose joint venture TIL Chinalink will deliver about 400 cross-border coach trips via the bridge, said he expected the company to be able to provide about 300 trips on the first day. About 100 of them are for tour groups, he added.
“It [the announcement] was out of our expectation,” Wong said. “The government had said it would give us a two-month notice for preparation. But it came all in a sudden.”
He said he understood the government also did not know the arrangements in advance, adding he hoped more coach services would be ready in the next two weeks.
Macella Lee Sui-chun, the deputy commissioner for transport, said the government believed most coaches would be fully operational a week after the bridge opened.
Private car drivers heading to Macau can book ahead for one of the 3,000 parking spaces at the city’s port, and Chan said Hong Kong was considering building a similar car park on top of an artificial island near the port.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said he was happy to hear about the idea, which could “kill two birds with one stone”.
“It will provide a lot of conveniences but will not bring extra vehicles to Hong Kong,” he said. “The bridge meanwhile can receive more money for its business.”
Chan said the government expected the flow of vehicles and people attracted by the bridge would be “relatively few” in the first several weeks after it opened.
“But the focus of large-scale infrastructure projects should be the long-term social and economic development the projects will bring to Hong Kong,” he said.
The transport minister said the government did not have an estimate about the amount of early traffic, but cited a previous estimate that the bridge would attract some 29,000 vehicles per day by 2030.