Legco support for tunnel toll hike plan won't be easy

January 22, 2019 11:37
A file picture shows the Western Harbour Crossing (WHC). The Hong Kong government plans to raise the fees for the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and the Eastern Harbour Crossing and reduce the levy for the WHC. Photo: CNSA

The government is set to move a non-binding motion on Wednesday in the Legislative Council calling for support from parties across the political spectrum for its proposal to adjust the toll fees on private cars, taxis and motorcycles for the three road harbor crossings.

Authorities intend to raise the fees for the Cross-Harbour Tunnel (CHT) and the Eastern Harbour Crossing (EHC) and reduce the levy for the Western Harbour Crossing (WHC).

The Toll Adjustment Proposal is designed to optimize traffic distribution among the three road harbor crossings, with officials believing that the revised fee structure will prompt some of the motorists who currently use the CHT and the EHC to take the WHC instead.

However, the pan-dems as well as some members of the pro-establishment camp have made it clear that they will oppose the motion.

Despite last-ditch efforts from Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan -- the official attended two radio programs Tuesday morning to explain the government's proposal to the public -- to turn things around, the government, as of now, is yet to be assured of majority vote in the legislature, which means it is likely that the proposal would be thrown out by Legco.

A number of lawmakers who are opposed to the proposal have cited the traffic congestion in Central and the areas nearby after the Stage 1 commissioning of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass as grounds for railing against the plan.

Nevertheless, a government source says he believes the traffic jam at the newly-opened bypass is likely to be temporary, as many motorists were taking that new route only to get a first-hand experience of it, hence the congestion.

Therefore, it is believed that, once the novelty of the bypass begins to wear off, it is likely that its traffic flow volume will return to normal.

The government source also reiterated that there is no room for change as far as the Toll Adjustment Proposal is concerned, because the administration has already sealed a deal with the WHC, which is seen as the best possible outcome.

Still, both the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions will move amendments to the motion demanding a cut in the toll hikes for the CHT and the EHC, as they are yet to soften their stand.

Michael Tien Puk-sun, a pro-establishment lawmaker who has said he would support the government motion, has conceded that the chances of it getting passed in Legco are remote.

The government, Tien says he learnt, even refused to accept a moderate amendment put forward by pro-Beijing lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok.

Tien questioned the rationale behind the government’s refusal to budge an inch in relation to the motion. The administration’s intransigence would only make things more difficult to resolve the issue, the lawmaker added.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 22

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.