HK to have its first booth-free toll tunnel in 2021

January 15, 2019 17:04
A file picture depicts a design for the interchange section for the Tseung Kwan O– Lam Tin Tunnel. The government plans to spend HK$330 million to install a free-flow tolling system at the tunnel. Photo: HK Govt

The Tseung Kwan O-Lam Tin Tunnel, which saw construction begin in July 2016, will become the first of its kind in Hong Kong to have a new electronic tolling system once the facility goes into service in 2021.

In a document submitted to the Legislative Council on Monday, the government said it plans to spend HK$330 million to install a free-flow tolling system (FFTS) at the tunnel, which will cost more than HK$15 billion, as part of efforts to make traffic smoother.

Apart from the traffic considerations, the geographic conditions of the tunnel also justify the planned spending on the new tolling system, authorities said.

The plan came after the authorities commissioned a consultant in 2017 to conduct a feasibility study and field tests, and also consulted the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data for its opinions, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Under the FFTS, all that a driver has to do is attach a chip-tag enabled with a radio frequency identification (RFID) transmission technology to the inside of the car windscreen. The system, which is also capable of identifying a car plate, will deduct the toll fee from payment methods such as a designated bank account or credit card.

After funding approval from the Legco, installation work for the system can begin by the end of this year, it is hoped.

The Transport Department plans to issue e-toll tags and in-car sensors to drivers free of charge starting from the third quarter of 2020. There will be a fee for replacements.

As for the toll for the Tseung Kwan O-Lam Tin Tunnel, HK$3 is proposed for all types of vehicles, the same as that charged by the Tseung Kwan O Tunnel, whose traffic flow is expected to ease as they both share the same toll.

Using a single rate will help achieve the effect of diverting traffic, the government said.

Although some observers have called for the new tunnel to be a toll-free one, officials said such arrangement is not feasible.

If it is made a toll-free tunnel, it will attract additional traffic flow at connecting roads, thus affecting the effectiveness of connecting East and West Kowloon, they argued.

Currently both manual and automatic toll collection services are available in all 12 tolled tunnels and links in the territory for motorists to pay the toll fee either in cash or electronically.

The government said in the document that it aims to equip them with FFTS one by one starting from 2023, with the total cost estimated at HK$946 million.

Related preparation work is set to begin sometime this year, with the Tai Lam Tunnel expected to be the last one being installed as the government cannot reclaim its ownership until 2025.

In related news, labor unions have some concerns over the planned introduction of the FFTS, as the system could mean that jobs such as toll collector may be phased out.

The chair of the Hong Kong Tunnel and Highway Employees' General Union said he fears the jobs of several hundred toll collectors will likely be at risk.

If the people are laid off, it will be hard for them to find other jobs as what they are doing is low-skilled work and as most of the personnel also have a low level of education, the union chief said.

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