Speedy travel still a ways away

Editorial | Mary Ma 11 Feb 2019

The peak Chinese New Year holiday period has passed. While the SAR administration is still struggling over its plan to spread traffic more evenly among our three cross-harbor tunnels, the Express Rail Link and Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge have gone through their first CNY rush test - proving their value in lowering congestion at conventional control points along the land border.

As new record numbers of mainlanders entering and leaving by the new rail connection and mega bridge were reported, popular crossing points at Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau were less crowded, despite the fact more mainlanders came south during the festival period.

A total of 2.88 million people crossed the border during the first three days of the Lunar New Year, up 15 percent from last year. Among them were 250,000 traveling via the Express Rail, and 378,000 using the world's longest sea bridge.

The increase meant more business for the city's retailers and restaurants. Without the two additional crossings, others along the land border would have been congested, and some travelers could have walked away due to congestion.

Although mainlanders were vilified for clogging popular shopping districts and tourist destinations such as Ocean Park, which forced crowd-control contingencies to be adopted to cap the number of visitors, it was basically a happy problem, for CNY is supposed to be a festival buzzing with activities.

There were some other incidents, including the breakdown of ticketing machines of the "golden bus" service that carries travelers to and fro on the mega bridge, but they were hiccups expected of a new pattern of border crossing that not only mainlanders, but also Hongkongers are starting to get used to.

The success of the expanded border crossing might be viewed as a mockery of the administration's struggle with the local traffic across Victoria Harbour. It would be a pity if the plan to smooth out harbor crossing traffic is abandoned due to objections by pro-government lawmakers preoccupied with their partisan electoral needs later this year.

Back to the border crossings, the next step would be for the authorities to make them more user-friendly. The bridge, for instance, is still badly underutilized despite the CNY surge. Obviously, greater efforts must be made to encourage usage - especially by goods vehicles - since freight transportation was the prime function for which the multibillion-dollar span was built.

As for the Express Rail Link, is it possible to make the service as convenient as the MTR system, with equally simple ticketing?

It would be better still if stops along the Greater Bay Area can be categorized into fixed point-to-point journeys, whereby anyone may buy a ticket at one the machines in the West Kowloon Terminus and board the next available train free of the fear of missing a departure.

That would revolutionize the mode of travel between Hong Kong and mainland.

In the long term, service hours may be extended past midnight, to allow SAR residents working in the Greater Bay Area to commute easily.

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