Govt mulls e-toll scheme in Central to ease traffic

March 29, 2019 16:05
The government hopes the electronic road pricing pilot scheme would ease road traffic congestion in the central business district of Central. Photo: Bloomberg

The government plans to make motorists pay when they drive into the core business district in Central, which has long been suffering from traffic congestion.

Daily average vehicular traffic flow in and out of Central rose 10 percent to about 503,000 from 2003 to 2017, with private cars accounting for 45 percent during rush hours, more than any other type of vehicle, official statistics show.

As such, the average vehicle speed on Central’s main roads, including Des Voeux Road Central, Chater Road and Connaught Road Central, was down 10 to 35 percent during rush hours in the 2015-17 period.

Given the situation, the government is hoping that the “user-pay” principle can effectively change motorists’ travel patterns and therefore alleviate road traffic congestion in Central.

This is in line with Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s 2017 policy address, in which she said the government would carry out an in-depth feasibility study on an electronic road pricing pilot scheme in Central and adjacent areas.

In a paper recently submitted to the Central and Western District Council, the Transport and Housing Bureau proposed to implement the pricing scheme to alleviate road traffic congestion in the central business district, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.

The bureau said the traffic congestion cannot be solved through law enforcement alone because the root of the problem is that there are too many cars entering the area.

Although the Central-Wan Chai Bypass has been fully open since last month, it is still unable to reduce traffic congestion in Central, the study said.

As such, the most effective way is to make people drive less and use public transport in going to Central.

By charging motorists entering the area, it is estimated that traffic volume can be cut by 15 percent from its current level, the bureau said.

The e-toll system will involve in-vehicle units (IVUs) using radio frequency identification technology and supplement it with automatic number plate recognition that would allow motorists to pay tolls without stopping.

Fees will be based on the time of their entry into Central. Motorists who use the Central-Wan Chai Bypass without entering Central will not be charged.

According to the proposal, the charging scheme will cover the area surrounded by Rumsey Street in Sheung Wan, Murray Road, Queen's Road Central, Lower Albert Road, and Hollywood Road.

The bureau did not specify how much the fees will be or when the scheme will be launched.

It stressed that the scheme does not aim to boost the government's revenue and all net income from the scheme will be used to enhance public transport services.

In a meeting with the Transport Department earlier, Central and Western District Council member Dominic Chan Choi-hi said the government is considering exempting van-type light goods vehicles for commercial purposes from the scheme but taxis are expected not to be excluded.

Chan, who chairs the District Council’s traffic and transport committee, said he thinks the coverage area of the scheme is too wide.

He noted that the plan includes Lyndhurst Terrace and Wellington Street, which means that residents in the area will have to pay when going out or returning to their homes.

The scheme would be fine as long as the toll coverage area is only up to Queen's Road Central, he said.

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