It must have come as a surprise to many Hong Kong people, particularly the motorists, that the two busy cross harbor tunnels have not raised fares since 1999. Judged by the heavy traffic resulting in frequent back ups extending to all approach roads, there was no reason for keep fares unchanged for so long.
Now, at last, the government, which owns the two tunnels is proposing a fare review which could lead to increases while offering to subsidizing the fares of the private-owned third tunnel to help divert traffic. It sounds like a good idea although it is inherently unfair to the many tax payers who take the subway or the ferry to cross the harbor.
Social justification aside, the idea that is expected to cost the government many millions of dollar a year is well received by drivers of commercial vehicles who have been complaining about the losses in time and money getting stuck in traffic everyday. Indeed, the congestion in the busiest two cross harbor tunnels is a sore point that reflects badly on the management of the city.
The government proposed plan is aimed mainly on cutting down the use of the tunnels in question by private cars and taxis that account for the bulk of the traffic. But it may not be going far enough. The proposed rate hike is seen to be too modest to have any effect of forcing motorists off the tunnels.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan has said that the government is open to all suggestions. One proposal which has been talked about since ownership of the two tunnels was reverted to the government is to drastically raise the fairs on private cars, taxis and public light buses which are considered to be the least efficient modes of passenger transport compared to buses.
It makes sense to exempt commercial vehicles from fare increases to avoid adding cost to businesses at a time when the government is keen to stimulate economic growth which has stayed stubbornly at an average of less than 3 percent a year. Any cost increase would pose too much of a strain on small- to medium-sized businesses, including retailers and caterers, who are already hard hit by escalating shop rents.
It will take the shock of a massive fare increase to convince motorists that they can do much better than sitting in traffic if they take the subway or bus to cross to the other side of the harbor.