The opening of the mega-bridge to Macau and Zhuhai draws closer by the day, with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor traveling the full length for the first time last Friday. On March 15, the 72-hectare man-made island that will handle passengers and goods for Macau and Zhuhai was handed over to the Macau government.
So who will benefit from this giant project that has cost HK$120 billion?
The first winners will be the tourism industries of Hong Kong and Macau, with the bridge able to deliver higher volumes of visitors.
“The bridge will draw people in Hong Kong and Zhuhai closer together,” Lam said in Zhuhai on Friday. “Hong Kong people, in particular its young people, will find tremendous opportunities for development in Zhuhai. The two cities can collaborate in innovation and technology, cultural tourism, creative industries, education and medical services.”
In Zhuhai, she visited the special zone of Hengqin, opposite Macau, which has nearly 900 Hong Kong-invested companies. There she visited Novotown, a tourism and entertainment project of Lai Sun Group.
On her way home, she went through the man-made island offshore Macau, which contains border posts for the SAR and Zhuhai. It has a built-up area of more than 600,000 square meters, with parking spaces for 6,800 private cars and 2,000 motorcycles.
The central government has not yet announced the opening date. In January, the mainland media said it would be in the second quarter of this year. Last month mainland officials told visiting reporters that an opening on July 1 would be impossible because the Hong Kong side had not completed its road-surfacing work and boundary-crossing facilities.
On March 30, a transport firm run by Pansy Ho Chiu-king announced that it had won the exclusive rights to run shuttle buses between this man-made island and the one at the Hong Kong end. The costs will be HK$80 one way and 90-140 buses will depart every 10-15 minutes, or five minutes at peak hours. Night buses will run every 15-30 minutes. That compares with a Hong Kong-Macau ferry fare of HK$160 to HK$200.
This tells us who will be the first winners from the bridge – the hotels and casinos of Macau and the tourism industry of Hong Kong. Every day the ferries of Shun Tak – also run by the Ho family – are full of mainland tourists traveling from here to Macau. The new shuttle service will be able to handle larger volumes of them, as well as Hong Kong and other tourists going there.
The bridge will also shorten the journey time for residents of cities in the west of the Pearl River to come to Hong Kong, making one-, two- and three-day visits cheaper and more feasible.
During the visit, Niu Jing, Communist Party secretary of the Hengqin district, told Carrie Lam that, once the bridge was complete, Zhuhai airport could accept a portion of the traffic at Hong Kong airport. Currently, the Zhuhai facility operates at about 50 percent of its design capacity of 12 million passengers a year.
It has proposed a diversion of business jets, for which there is limited space at the Hong Kong airport. The clients could use helicopters or limousines for the onward journey to Hong Kong.
In addition, Zhuhai officials have high hopes for the bridge. They hope that thousands of Hong Kong people unable to buy apartments at home will purchase them in Zhuhai and commute to work or retire there.
While property prices there are substantially lower than in Hong Kong, many obstacles remain. A commuter would have to go through two sets of border controls and then their way to their place of work in Hong Kong – a journey that could take 90 minutes one way.
If they want their children to be educated in Hong Kong and not in Zhuhai, they face a similar journey. For retired people, the biggest obstacle is medical care. They have access to Hong Kong’s high-quality and low-price public health care – but, in Zhuhai, they would have to pay for private medicine.
In terms of new employment opportunities, as the chief executive said, the bridge will certainly accelerate the development of Zhuhai’s economy. To find a place in it, however, Hong Kong youths must compete against the enormous talent pool in the mainland, speak fluent Mandarin and be ready to work for lower wages than at home.
So it is too early to know who will be the long-term winners and losers from the bridge.
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