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Trial crucial to get bridge traffic moving

Clear the Air says: white elephantantitis starts to appear even before the HKZM bridge is built


If scheme to boost cross-border driving fails, link to Zhuhai and Macau may be underused and tolls higher

Anita Lam 
Feb 09, 2012
The multibillion-dollar bridge linking Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau could be utilised at just half of its full capacity 20 years after it opens, if a pilot scheme to increase cross-border driving fails to take off.

And with fewer cars using the bridge, it could mean higher tolls for trucks and private cars than planned.

Construction of the HK$83 billion bridge is under way. Hong Kong’s section will cost at least HK$48.5 billion. Zhuhai and Macau expect to complete their sections by 2016.

The Transport and Housing Bureau made the usage projection earlier, based on an existing licence system set up to allow a selected group of 24,000 Hongkongers and 2,000 mainlanders to drive between Hong Kong and Guangdong. The new pilot scheme is meant to ease these restrictions, and officials are counting on it to increase bridge traffic.

One month before the trial’s first phase, allowing local five-seater cars to travel north on a seven-day permit, Hongkongers are protesting to try to stop it – and the second phase, which would bring mainland drivers here.

Critics fear mainland drivers, who are used to a different traffic system and are known for reckless driving, may pose a danger in Hong Kong.

Even without the opposition, the take-up rate of the trial’s first phase seems to be on shaky ground. While the details have yet to be unveiled, people familiar with the plan say vehicles subject to car loan repayments and seven-seaters are ineligible for the cross-border licence.

The costs involved could also be formidable. Apart from an application fee of up to HK$500 for the temporary licence, drivers face miscellaneous expenses including insurance, car inspection fees and charges from institutes that guarantee the car crossing the border would be the same one returning home. Drivers will also have to pay HK$1,900 if they opt to take a course on the mainland’s traffic rules and road network.

If the scheme fails, it could result in an underused bridge, and a possible increase in toll charges – which officials had predicted to be as low as HK$100 for private cars and about HK$200 for trucks.

Without an improved cross-border licence scheme, only 11,600 vehicles would be using the bridge at its opening in 2016, the bureau says. After 20 years, daily traffic would increase to only 42,450 vehicles – or half of the bridge’s capacity.

If authorities charge only HK$100 for private cars – which now make up about three-fifths of total cross-border traffic – and HK$200 for trucks, income from the bridge would reach only about HK$27.6 billion in 20 years. That was compared to a construction bill of HK$83 billion – including a 22 billion yuan (HK$27.07 billion) loan which the governments of the three cities have to repay with interest in 35 years.

Zheng Tianxiang , a transport specialist at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong, said unless Hong Kong gave up its status as an open economy, integration with the mainland was inevitable. “Hong Kong used to oppose the individual traveller scheme as well, but that has proved crucial for the economy.”

New entry plan for mainland cars
Scheme will see a daily maximum of 350 such vehicles in Hong Kong, say insiders
Anita Lam 
Feb 09, 2012

Fifty mainland-registered vehicles a day will be allowed into Hong Kong for up to seven days when the next phase of the cross-border driving scheme begins, say people familiar with plans being made by the Hong Kong and Guangdong governments.

But mainland drivers applying for local licences would need to meet strict requirements, such as having a good driving record and attending courses on the city’s traffic regulations, they said.

The first phase of the plan – which will also allow 50 Hong Kong-registered private vehicles to travel daily to Guangdong – is due to begin next month.

Critics worry that the second phase will lead to hundreds of mainland vehicles clogging the city’s roads and adding to the pollution, and such fears have led to a war of words on the internet.

However, only a maximum of 350 mainland vehicles will be in the city daily under the “50 mainland cars a day for seven days” scheme, say people with knowledge of the plan.

That is in addition to the existing system of cross-border permits extended to 2,000 mainland vehicles. As such, the total population of mainland vehicles in the city is unlikely to cause an undue burden, according to the insiders.

While the quota for mainland vehicles may eventually increase, they say, the number will always be fewer than that of Hong Kong vehicles heading north, which may eventually increase to 500 a day.

Yang Kun, a mainland driver with a cross-border licence and the spokesman for a group of 1,500 cross-border permit holders, said none of the group’s members had ever been involved in a serious or fatal motoring accident in Hong Kong. But he acknowledged there were some “killer” mainland drivers.

“It was challenging for me to fit into a traffic system exactly the opposite to that of where we come from, but it didn’t take me long to cope,” Yang said, referring to the mainland’s use of left-hand driving and Hong Kong’s right-hand driving.

“A good thing about Hong Kong’s traffic is that there is almost always a car in front of you to remind you of the correct lane to stick to,” said the deputy general manager of B&B Motor Club, a Shenzhen-based group comprising Mercedes-Benz and BMW drivers who travel across the border.

Traffic regulations in the city and on the mainland also differ in other respects.

For instance, vehicles on the mainland are allowed to turn right when there is no traffic, even when the traffic lights are red. That is not allowed in the city.

Yang said he had occasionally driven in the wrong lane on quiet roads in Yuen Long. But he had been driving cautiously and slowly because of his lack of familiarity with Hong Kong roads, he said, adding his fellow club members did the same.

“It is more comfortable to drive in Hong Kong [than on the mainland], you don’t have to worry about other cars cutting you from every direction,” he said.

“It is easier to follow rules in an environment where everyone else is doing so too.”

Yang said the club agreed that strict local rules should be imposed on mainland drivers and the condition of their vehicles.

It has suggested that the city’s government demarcate routes for sight-seeing and shopping purposes, and have signs directing mainland drivers away from busy streets, such as those in Mong Kok and Central.

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