Let's Clear the Fog over Central Tolls


By Lo Hong-kam, Head and Chair Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, HKUST

Hong Kong is no stranger to traffic congestion and the government has mulled over introducing electronic road pricing in Central since the 1980s and public engagement over ERP was completed in 2016, but some vocal stakeholders, mainly private vehicle owners, have stymied such plans for decades.

I believe both policymakers and the media have failed the public by centering discussions on how a potential ERP system would impact on private car users when they are the minority in using the transportation system.

Only 10 percent of trips in Hong Kong use private cars and the rest rely on public transportation.

Let me explain why implementing ERP in Central would bring positive impact to the traveling public.

In our field, we call road users who are time sensitive those who put a high value on time and are willing to pay a premium to minimize their travel time, and in this case, pay a toll to continue using the important roads in Central during rush hour.

On the other hand, those who put a lower value on time would switch to public transportation instead, causing a cascading effect across the entire public transit system.

With less private vehicles on the road, buses will have shorter travel times.

This may then attract people to switch from the MTR to buses, hence alleviating crowding on trains.

Moreover, if the toll revenue collected from cars is used to lower public transportation fares to Central through a certain subsidy scheme, this will benefit both existing public transportation users and those who switch to public transportation.

All public transportation users will benefit from both lower fares and faster transit times to Central.

Those who keep using cars will find their travel times shortened, and the value of that is higher than the toll they pay.

London and Singapore have used ERP for over a decade with varying degrees of success.

Stockholm's experience, which introduced ERP permanently in 2007, could prove illustrative for Hong Kong.

Sweden's capital city held a seven-month long trial of the system in early 2006, followed by a referendum in September that year that saw the largest municipality in the metropolitan area vote in favor of permanent implementation of ERP.

Our government should explore a similar approach and prepare a trial ERP period that clearly demonstrates the positive effects. Doing so will help swing the public in favor of ERP.

After all, a reduced number of vehicles will not only improve the experience of our travel in Central but also the air quality in the area, helping Hong Kong to go forward as a green city.

The article was published on The Standard on May 22, 2019.

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