Retail invasions show bridge disconnect

Editorial | Mary Ma 6 Nov 2018

What we've seen in Sheung Shui is repeating itself in Tung Chung following the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge.

The spectacular scenes of hundreds or even thousands of shoppers and sightseers turning out in force on weekends were driven by market forces. Opportunistic merchants have been most successful in converting the project of national pride into retail gold by tapping into mainlanders' curiosity to see the mega bridge.

Retailers couldn't be happier to see business grow by double digits despite the loss of some local customers a result of the crowds.

Certainly, it's too sensational to say Tung Chung has gone the way of the border township of Sheung Shui. However, when even pro-Beijing legislators like Holden Chow Ho-ding felt obliged to speak up, the situation must be very serious. Otherwise, Chow would have sung the visitors' praises instead.

He might be acting out of his own political calculations, since he's also a Tung Chung councillor, with hundreds of votes at stake.

The sudden surge of so many visitors is a cause of concern for locals, but it would be really hard for the government to comply with any local wish for the number of visitors crossing the bridge from Zhuhai to Tung Chung to be brought down.

What can the government do - cut down on the bus service between Tung Chung and the Hong Kong side on the bridge?

Technically, this would double the inconvenience and the number of arrivals would naturally drop. However, there is no way the SAR would agree to that as this would be, firstly, a huge political mistake to make and, secondly, contrary to the overriding policy of encouraging usage.

The authorities will do whatever's practical to improve the situation, but it would be unrealistic to expect the weekend craze to end. The fever would recede only after mainlanders have seen enough of the bridge, and are not longer interested in the Tung Chung outlets, or taking a ride on the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car.

Undoubtedly, Tung Chung's infrastructure is overwhelmed by a transitional population that swells only on weekends and sinks during normal weekdays.

The multibillion-dollar world's longest sea bridge is still seriously underutilized. In hindsight, that's not bad. In view of the weekend chaos for the past two weeks, disruptions to local life would have been more drastic if traffic had been running near the designed capacity from the beginning.

If there's a lesson to be learned, it would be that facilities should be augmented at the same time as the bridge was built.

Weekend crowds will continue to be a new normal that Tung Chung residents had better get used to.

In the meantime, government departments may step up their efforts to clean filthy toilets more frequently, relocate some connecting bus stops to places away from local residential estates, and speed up the construction of local facilities for which planning has been approved.

Unfortunately, the sense of disconnection in planning is unmistakable.

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