Government shelves plan to adjust tunnel rates, for now

January 23, 2019 13:44
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan (center) said the government will continue to discuss the toll adjustment proposal with lawmakers to gain their support. Photo: HKEJ

The government has decided not to table a motion for the adjustment of tunnel toll rates at the Legislative Council after strong opposition from lawmakers.

However, Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan told reporters that the administration will continue to discuss the proposal with lawmakers to gain more support, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

At a media session on Tuesday afternoon, Chan said the proposal, which will cover the three major harbor crossings, is supported by the community, academics, professional bodies, the taxi trade and even some lawmakers.

But lawmakers had differences of opinion about the plan, making it unlikely that the motion would be passed, he said.

The proposed toll adjustment measure was originally scheduled to be tabled at Legco on Wednesday.

Nonetheless, Chan said, the administration still hopes to implement the plan from Jan. 1, 2020 as originally scheduled.

The proposal seeks to improve traffic distribution among the three major undersea tunnels, namely Cross Harbour Tunnel (CHT), Eastern Harbour Crossing (EHC) and Western Harbour Crossing (WHC).

According to government studies, the weekday peak-hour traffic at CHT and EHC has already significantly exceeded their respective design capacities and the traffic queues on connecting roads reflect serious congestion at the tunnels, which has also affected non-cross-harbor traffic.

The diversion work for the second stage of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass will begin a month later, Chan said, adding that the overall effectiveness of the bypass in improving traffic in the area will be more noticeable.

The government wants the privately run WHC to share the burden of the traffic assumed by CHT and EHC more effectively. With this in mind, the government has sought to lower the toll rates at WHC and raise fees for the other two crossings from Jan. 1, 2020.

Under the plan, the toll for private cars using the WHC will be reduced to HK$50 from HK$70 at present, while the rates for CHT and EHC will go up to HK$40 from HK$20 and HK$25 respectively.

Speaking in two radio interviews on Tuesday morning, Chan tried to sell the toll adjustment measure, only to announce at a hastily arranged briefing several hours later that a related motion will be temporarily shelved.

The sudden about-face suggested the government has yielded to strong opposition from both pan-democratic and pro-establishment lawmakers, and decided to change course once again.

Just last week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced additional welfare benefits  for senior citizens who will be affected by the government’s decision to raise the age requirement for eligibility under the elderly Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme, after lawmakers from both camps assailed the earlier move.

Lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, who chairs the Legco’s Panel on Transport, said it is good to see the government put the toll adjustment measure on hold as he urged other alternative measures to be tabled for discussion.

Lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung, representing the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said if the government insists on the toll measure with unchanged content, the federation will find it hard to support the proposal.

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho echoed his colleagues' stance, saying he cannot see any reason for supporting the proposal.

Roundtable lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, who supported the measure, said before considering what action to take on tunnel fees, the government should wait and see what effect the new Central-Wan Chai Bypass would have on traffic once it is fully open, RTHK reported.

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