Passenger numbers through local checkpoint on Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge hit record high after shuttle bus services enhanced
- Waiting times for passengers coming into Hong Kong from mainland side down to 20 minutes from an hour a week ago
- ‘Golden bus’ fleet enhanced with more vehicles after thousands of people kept waiting on first weekend of operation
Passenger numbers through the Hong Kong checkpoint on a cross-border mega bridge hit a record high on Saturday after authorities rolled out measures to improve shuttle bus services and avoid a repeat of the travel chaos last weekend.
As of 8pm, almost 78,300 passengers crossed the city’s port area, according to Hong Kong’s Immigration Department, compared with about 78,000 recorded last Sunday, the previous high.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan visited the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge earlier in the day and noted that traffic was orderly after arrangements were made to enhance passenger flow.
He said he believed the overall figure could hit a high, with more than 50,000 people having crossed the Hong Kong checkpoint by around 4pm on the 55km over-sea link, the world’s longest. Last Saturday’s overall number was 59,000.
But long queues were still seen at the mainland checkpoint of the bridge around noon, with hundreds of travellers waiting for about 20 minutes for a seat on shuttle buses bound for Hong Kong.
Many of the travellers were from mainland tour groups led by flag-wielding tour guides.
Chen Ben, a tour guide leading 35 tourists from Qingyuan city to Hong Kong, said he expected to arrive at the Hong Kong side at about 12.15pm, but his group was stranded at the Zhuhai checkpoint.
“We were originally late but we thought we could still make it when we arrived at the checkpoint, but here we are still, after 20 minutes,” Chen, 30, said, adding that the queue “did not move at all”.
He said however that waiting times were shorter this week, pointing out that his tour group last Saturday waited for an hour in the morning to pass through.
The 24-hour shuttle bus service – popularly known as “golden bus” because of the fleet’s colour – across the bridge was overloaded last Saturday and Sunday as the link entered its first operational weekend since opening on October 24.
Thousands were kept waiting for hours at checkpoints to get on the bridge, sparking concerns over efficiency of the shuttle services.
To better manage passenger flows, Hong Kong officials on Friday said the operator of the shuttle buses had increased its fleet from 120 to 138 vehicles, while renting 20 to 30 coaches from other vendors for weekends.
The new arrangement proved crucial in the early morning peak hours on Saturday.
Businessman Wang Hoibong, 40, said he waited for less than 20 minutes in the queue in Zhuhai.
“It was acceptable. Everything was in order,” Wang said.
On the Hong Kong side, shuttle bus operations were smooth. At about 10am, when the rush began, some 100 passengers were waiting for vehicles to both Macau and Zhuhai. As multiple buses arrived, queues quickly diminished.
Retiree Philip Wong Tak-chuen, who was on his way to Macau, said he did not worry about being stuck in long queues in the morning.
“I heard the operator had added dozens of vehicles to run the trips,” Wong, 71, said. “I have confidence in it.” He only took about five minutes to board one of the “golden buses”.
He said however that he would probably come back to Hong Kong earlier in the evening – at 5pm – to avoid the evening traffic crunch.
Elderly caretaker Lee Yuk-kwan, 50, travelling from Hong Kong to Zhuhai, was also upbeat about travel time, noting the availability of buses. “We don’t need to come back earlier because I heard on the news there would be a lot of buses in service.”
By late afternoon, bus services were still running smoothly, with traveller numbers picking up at the Hong Kong checkpoint. There was some overcrowding at about 7pm when tour groups going out of the city were confused about where to queue up for coach trips they had pre-booked.
The opening ceremony of the mega bridge was attended by President Xi Jinping on October 23 after two years of delays and billions of dollars in budget overruns.
While supporters expected it to increase connectivity and further integrate Hong Kong and Macau into southern China’s economy, local critics have called it a white elephant, doubting if it was worth the HK$120 billion (US$15.4 billion) that Hong Kong invested in it.