Why we must open HZMB to more private motorists

February 18, 2019 18:22
A shuttle bus crosses the Hong Kong Link Road section of the HZMB. The mega bridge is a strategic investment that can facilitate a “one-hour living circle” within the Pearl River Delta region. Photo: Bloomberg

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) has been open to the public since October last year, but its low vehicle flow has raised widespread doubts on the wisdom of current government restrictions on the use of the bridge.

The social and economic benefits brought by the HK$160-billion infrastructure project are beyond dispute.

The 55-kilometer-long mega bridge is a strategic investment that can facilitate a “one-hour living circle” within the Pearl River Delta region.

The HZMB can also foster synergy effects on the social and economic development of Hong Kong, Zhuhai, Macau and other mainland cities along the western bank of the Pearl River, thereby greatly facilitating integration within the delta region.

However, in order to achieve this goal, the Hong Kong government must first formulate a proper policy on regulating vehicle flow along the HZMB so as to optimize the use of the bridge by motorists.

In other words, in order to facilitate the flow of people, logistics, capital and information across the 11 cities in the delta area, we need a more proactive and aggressive policy regarding the use of the mega bridge.

The question is, how can we enhance human and logistics flow in the delta region if the vast majority of private vehicles in Hong Kong are not allowed to use the bridge?

Private cars cannot be absent in intercity transport anywhere in the world, as is the case of Beijing and Tianjin, Shanghai and Hangzhou, London and Manchester, and even Singapore and a city in Malaysia.

As far as Hong Kong is concerned, it has already become increasingly common for our local retirees to retreat to mainland cities across the Guangzhou-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area like Zhongshan in recent years.

As such, the HZMB can definitely provide unrivaled transport convenience for their children, and enable them to save a huge amount of time when traveling between Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area.

It is said that some people have reservations about opening up the HZMB to private cars for fear that it might affect the daily life of residents in Tung Chung.

One might still remember that when the South Lantau Road opened, there was considerable public concern that the narrow and curvy road might not be suitable for motorists who are not indigenous to the area.

To address such concerns, the government imposed restrictions on vehicle flow along the highway by only allowing motorists who have successfully applied for permits through the internet beforehand to use it.

The same approach can be applied to the HZMB: private motorists who have successfully applied for permits and registered with the authorities online will be allowed to use the bridge.

The easing of the restrictions on private motorists on the use the HZMB can be carried out in a gradual fashion. The number of permits issued to motorists can be adjusted according to the actual impact on Tung Chung residents.

For example, the government can initially issue 1,000 permits for private motorists. And if things go well, the number can be raised to 1,500, and then to 2,000, or even more.

If the currently excessive restrictions on vehicle flow along the HZMB are allowed to go on, the government will be unable to fully utilize the economic potential of the bridge.

Worse still, the government will be hard put in disputing allegations that the bridge is nothing more than a white elephant.

That said, I strongly urge the SAR government to take the initiative to relax restrictions on private motorists using the HZMB so that our taxpayers can enjoy solid returns on their huge investment.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 9

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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