Worried by congestion in Tung Chung, officials relax rules on tour bus pickups at local port of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge
- Measure meant to divert visitors who poured into quiet suburb and instead have them transit to urban areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui
- Fears linger that aggrieved residents could protest and try to ‘reclaim’ area
Transport officials will roll out a measure on Saturday to divert traffic away from a tranquil Hong Kong suburb where chaos erupted at the weekend when tourists poured in after travelling on the new mega bridge.
The plan is to relax restrictions for the 3,300 tour buses eligible to pick up passengers at the local port of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and divert them to urban areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok to bypass Tung Chung.
But some community groups voiced scepticism as to whether traffic could be kept to a minimum in the quiet New Territories suburb, which has recently been flooded by mainland visitors entered via the bridge.
Confirming the new measure, the Transport Department said on Thursday local tour bus operators that wanted to pick up passengers at the Hong Kong port during peak days would only need to submit the relevant information one day in advance.
In the past, interested parties needed to submit an online application between three days and one month ahead.
Chan Man-keung, spokesman of China-Hong Kong Passenger Services Co, said the change would “make the operation of tour buses at the bridge much easier”.
“In the past, the eligible tour buses also needed to partner with local travel agencies and submit their licensing and registration documents to the department before their applications were accepted,” he added.
Chan said the idea was introduced to enable smooth logistics at the port area, as each tour bus operator is only allowed to run five coaches per day.
The move came as some localist groups warned they would “reclaim” Tung Chung if the problems were not resolved soon. Others fear the affected residents’ grievances might escalate mainland-Hong Kong tensions.
More than 100,000 people passed through the Hong Kong port of the 55km bridge on Sunday. Many descended on Tung Chung for shopping, sightseeing and dining, and among them were suspected illegal tour groups taking day trips. The influx sparked an outcry from area residents.
Chan said the buses only picked up tour groups, noting police would handle those who operated illegally.
Lawmaker Holden Chow Ho-ding recalled that when he talked with officials, their initial target for the plan was tour groups. But he could not guarantee whether the coaches would also pick up individual travellers.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker said the transport operators and officials were still discussing the matter.
Chow hoped the arrangement could give travellers a choice and help divert passengers who wanted to take public transport, such as bus line B6 to Tung Chung.
“Those who can catch the rats are good cats,” he added.
Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho believed having coaches transfer travellers to other parts of Hong Kong could improve the situation.
But this would depend on the service intervals, Tam said.
Wong Chun-yeung of online community Tung Chung Future, described the root of the problem as the huge number of travellers entering Hong Kong and that officials’ response could not tackle the key issue.
He argued authorities should instead cap visitor numbers.
Earlier, Wong said he had been told by certain groups they were ready to take actions similar to the previous protests to “reclaim” Sheung Shui, should the situation persist.
Sheung Shui was plagued by parallel traders sourcing tax-free goods for sale across the border in 2012. The practice triggered protests and soured mainland-Hong Kong relations.
Wong said he would observe the situation on Friday and Saturday before making a decision on whether to “reclaim” Tung Chung.
Students Independence Union, which advocates independence for Hong Kong, called for a “battle” to defend Tung Chung. It added it needed to assess the situation.
Its convenor, Wayne Chan Ka-kui, said the measure might end up driving illegal tour operators to other districts in the city.