Thursday 14 April 2016

Hong Kong congestion charge looking more likely? 是交通拥堵费可能为香港?

Harbour Times (Hong Kong) reports that the Government of Hong Kong looks like it is more determined to introduce Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) than ever before. The genesis of road pricing in Hong Kong goes back to a study in the 1990s that included some of the first trials ever of using GPS technology to measure distance, with a technology pilot located at the former Kai Tak Airport site.  Politics have got in the way of implementation in the past, and they are still an issue, but given experience that has been built up in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, it would seem easier to introduce a congestion charge in Central and Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island than ever before.

The report says that local think tank Civic Exchange supports introducing congestion pricing and it made a submission to that end.   Civic Exchange claims that 90% of trips in Hong Kong are made by public transport (I'm not so sure, as I would have thought walking would have a reasonable share), but nevertheless it is seen as indicating that there is no problem substituting car trips for public transport for most trips.  It supports minimising exemptions, except for emergency vehicles.  That means charging buses, but since they can spread charge costs among multiple occupants, it should not be a problem.

The proposal from the Government is a pilot in Central and the consultation document and background materials can be downloaded here.

The consultation questions are shown below:

Hong Kong ERP consultation Questions 1-6
Hong Kong ERP consultation Questions 7-13

As you can see there is discussion about geography, whether an area (charging all movements within) or cordon (charge entry-exit only) scheme is preferred, what charging periods should be, the basis for charges, exemptions, technology options (focusing on DSRC and ANPR only), privacy protection and any complementary measures.  These are all good questions, for what it's worth I think that give what is being discussed, a cordon scheme with charging that varies by time of day, with minimal exemptions (emergency vehicles only) and charging based on road space occupancy would be the most effective.   

The intention is for the ERP pilot to cover an area bypassed by the soon to be completed Central-Wan Chai Bypass, illustrated below:

Hong Kong Central-Wan Chai Bypass
This would enable east-west traffic to bypass the concentration of activity in central Hong Kong and Wan Chai, and get access to the Cross Harbour Tunnel (which itself is congested as it has the lowest toll of the three tunnels to the mainland, suggesting that raising that toll should also be a congestion management measure at peak times).

The Harbour News report notes that Liberal Party LegCo member, Frankie Yick said 70% of respondents to one survey were opposed to ERP, even though only 27% are drivers.  That indicates that not enough has been done to sell the potential benefits of reduced congestion and pollution, or any discussion of what to do with the money.  Hong Kong is a traditionally low tax territory, so perceptions of increases in charges without anything in return are likely to be opposed.  This may be addressed if the net revenue is used on improving transport infrastructure or reducing other charges.  Mr Yick has three pre-conditions for introduction:

- Wait until the Central-Wan Chai Bypass is built, so it is easy to avoid the congestion charging zone;
- Enforcement against illegal parking, loading and unloading and illegal entry into yellow box junctions should be increased as a first step to ease congestion;
- Tolls of the three harbour crossings should be better synergised to manage congestion (one issue is that the Western Harbour Crossing is privately owned and managed until 2023). 

He says if these are all implemented first, then ERP can be considered.  However, I don't see how any of these alone will sustainably make the sort of difference that congestion pricing could do.  

He and Civic Exchange have different views.  Civic Exchange wants to control parking, but Mr Yick is opposed.  Mr Yick appears particularly concerned about the truck and taxi sectors having to pay, but if they do not then the impact of ERP will be inadequate.  Consider that London's congestion charge has more vehicles that do not pay entering the charging area than do pay, and congestion is now today at the same level as it was when it was introduced.  

Introducing congestion charging would make more sense than closing part of the Hong Kong tram route.  Unlike most tram, light rail systems around the world, this one is very high frequency (headways of no more than 2 minutes in the central section) and commercially viable, and has its own right of way.  A case may be made for buses to be able to use parts of the right of way, but Hong Kong's urban bus system is mostly commercial too, so they should pay for that.

What about the revenue?

For me the "elephant in the room" is the revenue.  There is nothing in the material I have read (admittedly all in English) that says anything about what any revenue from Hong Kong ERP would be used for.  Singapore, of course, is unique in that it simply collects the revenue for public purposes like a tax, but then it delivers impressive results in reducing congestion.  Hong Kong residents may want more than that.  

A reasonable may be that it is a pilot, it would only apply to a limited area, so may be the precursor to a wider implementation.  Indeed, the talk of complementary measures gives scope for ways revenue might be used.  However, I think a programme should be developed of measures that the net revenue will be used for that may include:
- Road improvements;
- Public transport infrastructure improvements (including park and ride facilities);
- Walking and cycling infrastructure projects;
- Reductions in other charges faced by road users.

I believe it will be difficult to turn around substantial opposition unless those who pay understand they will get benefits, with both the use of revenue being recycled and demonstrable minimum standards of service seen in travel time reliability and maintenance of existing networks.


I know Hong Kong moderately well having visited it many times and firmly believe that implementing a cordon charge in central Hong Kong (or even multiple charging zones) will have a positive impact on congestion and air quality, even if it is a first step.  Ultimately, much more could be achieved if Hong Kong followed Singapore in implementing a distance, time of day and location based charging system across Hong Kong (and would pioneer it for China).  However, this ERP pilot would be a first step in proving its effectiveness to residents and building a platform upon which more might be done.

A lot of work has been done on road pricing in Hong Kong already (see the original report)


Play the "How much do you know about ERP game"  prepared by Transport Department Hong Kong.

No I didn't get it all correct

Disclaimer: I worked on the Hong Kong Electronic Road Pricing Feasibility Study update in 2006.

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