Coronavirus: traffic figures for HK-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge tumble dramatically amid Covid-19 border control measures

07-Apr-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

After more than a year in operation, the much-touted mega bridge linking Hong Kong with Zhuhai and Macau has seen a dramatic drop in usage amid the coronavirus pandemic, plummeting by 90 per cent in February.

According to figures recently released by the Transport and Housing Bureau to the Legislative Council, the number of passengers travelling via the local port of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge in February stood at 205,300, down from about 2.08 million a year ago.

The vehicle flow at the bridge’s Hong Kong port, meanwhile, was down 64 per cent from a year ago, from 114,744 vehicles to just 40,788.

Both numbers were the worst since the 55km bridge the world’s largest sea crossing was opened in late October 2018 after two years’ of delays and billions of dollars in budget overruns.

The severe downturn comes as the Hong Kong government has imposed a series of measures since the end of January to reduce the cross-border passenger flow in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19, including a mandatory two-week quarantine for travellers from mainland China.

The usage of the bridge, hailed by President Xi Jinping as a showpiece of China’s power and innovation, peaked in May 2019 with a flow of 148,546 vehicles, while December 2018 saw the highest number of passenger trips 2,217,855 via the Hong Kong port. The bureau also revealed that the recurrent expenditure for the bridge’s Hong Kong section in 2019/20 was HK$337.8 million (US$43.6 million), while for 2020/21 it was estimated at HK$65.3 million. There are no non-recurrent expenditures for that time frame.

However, it declined to reveal the toll income received by the Hong Kong government, saying it was the bridge authority that collects the tolls necessary to repay the bank loan and meet the daily operation and maintenance expenses.

“It is not appropriate for us to disclose relevant information relating to the income and expenditure, as well as the profit and loss of the bridge unilaterally,” the bureau said.

While the totals were unavailable, a special toll-free arrangement in effect during certain holiday periods and this past February 54 days in all between February 2019 and the end of March meant the government forewent about HK$19 million in tolls.

The Covid-19 crisis, specifically the need for the “smooth transport of goods and necessities”, was cited in explaining the inclusion of February 2020 in the toll-free arrangement.

Construction on the Hong Kong section of the bridge started in 2011, and was originally expected to open in 2016. But it was plagued by problems such as workplace accidents, a corruption investigation, technical obstacles and budget overruns.

Hong Kong’s bill for the project snowballed to HK$120 billion (US$15.4 billion).

From the very beginning, I already said that this bridge was redundant, as ferries could cope with the travel demand to Macau

Quentin Cheng of commuter group Public Transport Research Team

Quentin Cheng Hin-kei, spokesman for the commuter group Public Transport Research Team, said the numbers did little to change his already dim view of the mega bridge, calling the project entirely unnecessary and a waste of public money.

He noted that both the vehicular flow and the number of travellers had been dropping since May of last year, despite a relaxation of the bridge’s vehicle quota.

“From the very beginning, I already said that this bridge was redundant, as ferries could cope with the travel demand to Macau. There is no point wasting billions of dollars on something not cost-effective,” he said.

Cheng also strongly opposed the toll-free scheme.

“It defies logic. I can’t see how the toll waivers could help [contain] the coronavirus outbreak. On the contrary, it will encourage more vehicles to cross the border, thus increasing the contagion risk,” he said.

“Why couldn’t the government use this money to subsidise local people using the local tunnels such as the Western harbour tunnel?”


Category: Hong Kong

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