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Wednesday, January 23, 2019, 00:23
Govt suspends tunnel toll motion after LegCo impasse
By Li Bingcun
Wednesday, January 23, 2019, 00:23 By Li Bingcun

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and guests travel to the commissioning ceremony venue in an open-air double decker via the west-bound carriageway of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass, Hong Kong, Jan 19, 2019. (PHOTO / HKSAR GOVERNMENT)

After failing to win enough support in the Legislative Council, the government decided on Tuesday to put the motion on cross-harbor tunnel toll adjustment on hold. The proposal was supposed to be submitted to LegCo today (Wednesday).

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan told reporters the government will study the impact the newly opened Central-Wan Chai Bypass will have on traffic flows. It will also keep lobbying lawmakers in the next few months to get approval for the controversial plan.

Although most lawmakers agree reshuffling cross-harbor traffic will benefit society in the long term, they have rejected the levels of adjustments proposed, Chan explained.

The proposal involves reducing tolls for private cars using the Western Harbour Crossing (WHC) from HK$70 to HK$50; raising tolls in the Cross Harbour Tunnel (CHT) at Hung Hom by HK$20, and the Eastern Harbour Crossing (EHC) by HK$25 – both to HK$40. This is to divert traffic flows to the underused WHC and to ease congestion.

Taxis with passengers via the WHC will also see tolls lowered from HK$65 to HK$36. The CHT and EHC, with toll levels of HK$10 and HK$25, respectively, will be adjusted to HK$20.

Despite many legislators expressing concern proposed hikes are excessive, Chan reiterated that there is no room to change the proposed adjustments. He said it is the “optimal option” based on considerable research by experts.

It was necessary to reshuffle cross-harbor motor vehicle traffic... but the proposed toll increases for the two tunnels were 'too much'

Ben Chan Han-pan

LegCo’s Panel on Housing

Refusing to make concessions, Chan said the government would continue to negotiate with lawmakers. He also hopes they will change their minds after passengers make full use of the newly opened Central-Wan Chai Bypass.

Because part of the construction work is still underway, the bypass could play a limited role in alleviating traffic congestion along the northern shore of Hong Kong Island.

After all the work is completed a month later, the bypass is expected to cut travel time by car between Central and North Point to only five minutes. This will help divert more traffic flows to the WHC.

Lawmaker and member of LegCo’s Panel on Housing Ben Chan Han-pan told China Daily he agreed it was necessary to reshuffle cross-harbor motor vehicle traffic. But he said the proposed toll increases for the two tunnels were “too much”.

He expressed concern the increase might not bring ideal results. Instead, it will be a heavy economic burden for users.

Considering the geographic proximity, he believes a number of private car owners living in the eastern part of Kowloon, such as Tseung Kwan O and Kwun Tong, will continue to use the CHT and the EHC - despite toll adjustments.

Calling for a reduction in the proposed toll rises for the two tunnels, Ben Chan also hopes the government could consider more ways to ease congestion. He believes the government could consider imposing a toll on tunnels during rush hours to encourage more people to use them during off-peak times.

More parking lots for private cars should be established near the MTR or bus stations close to entrances of the two tunnels, Ben Chan suggested. This could encourage car owners to cross the harbor using public transport, he said.

However, his views were rebutted by Hung Wing-tat, a board member of the Hong Kong Society for Transportation Studies. Hung said the toll adjustment was “reasonable” and would reshuffle cross-harbor traffic effectively.

To earn wider support from the public, he urged the government to designate part of the profits as subsidies to benefit cross-harbor passengers using public transport.

To cope with the subsequent surge in passengers, he believes public transport companies should take effective measures such as increasing shifts and manpower.

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