Time is of the essence in tunnel-toll proposal

Time-varying tunnel tolls - higher at peak hours and lower during off-peak - should be introduced to reduce congestion, DAB lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan says. Chan suggested that system should be introduced when the franchise at Western Harbour Crossing ends in 2023 and Tai Lam Tunnel...

Carine Chow

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Time-varying tunnel tolls - higher at peak hours and lower during off-peak - should be introduced to reduce congestion, DAB lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan says.

Chan suggested that system should be introduced when the franchise at Western Harbour Crossing ends in 2023 and Tai Lam Tunnel expires in 2025.

By charging more during peak hours and less when the traffic is not so congested for the three harbor tunnels - Cross Harbour Tunnel, Eastern Harbour Crossing and Western Harbour Crossing - can encourage the public to avoid using them during rush hours, he said.

Rush hours are usually from 7.30am to 9.30am and from 6pm to 8pm.

"We hope this plan can stretch out the overall traffic flow," he said.

The government proposed a toll adjustment plan in 2019 in which fees for cars at Cross Harbour Tunnel and Eastern Harbour Crossing could rise from HK$20 and HK$25 to HK$40 and fall from HK$70 to HK$50 at Western Harbor Crossing.

The plan was later withdrawn due to a lack of sufficient support from the Legislative Council.

Chan said it is not a good suggestion to just cut the costs of the two private tunnels, Western Harbour Crossing and Tai Lam Tunnel, when they become public.

This is because when the tolls decrease, all vehicles could use the two tunnels, leading to congestion, Chan said.

He also hoped authorities would look into the fare exemption for Shing Mun and Tseung Kwan O tunnels during nonrush hours.

Chan also proposed building a parking-interchange at major roads and the three harbor tunnels with supermarkets, restaurants and banks. This, he said, would encourage private car owners to park at the tunnels and switch to public transportation if they wish to cross the harbor, thereby easing traffic congestion.

Parking facilities should be built at Tai Lam Tunnel, Lantau Link, Ma Liu Shui and Siu Lam, as well as near the harbor tunnels.

"The railway system is the backbone of Hong Kong's public transport, but as many lines of the MTR are nearly full, people may opt to drive private cars instead, which causes congestion," he said.

Chan said congestion will get worse as more people move into new developments in the northern New Territories.

Hong Kong currently has four prioritized development areas, including Hung Shui Kiu, Kwu Tung North/Fan Ling North new development areas, and San Tin/Lok Ma Chau Development Node.

Chan stressed he supports splitting the Transport and Housing Bureau into two as this would allow officials to devote more resources to tackle transport problems.

"Transportation is the most important part when people are moving northward," he said.

A spokesman for the bureau said it would consider the proposals, but noted that the government has already adopted a multipronged approach to tackle the traffic problem, including improving transportation infrastructure and expanding the public transport system.

Free-flow tolling systems will be rolled out at all government tolled tunnels and the Tsing Sha Control Area from the end of next year to facilitate the smart mobility initiatives, he said.

carine.chow@singtaonewscorp.com