The private-sector operator of the Western Harbour Tunnel needed top-level persuasion to agree to vary its tolls and is unlikely to accept further changes, Transport Secretary Frank Chan has revealed.
Speaking on a radio programme, Mr Chan said that Chief Executive Carrie Lam had to fly to Beijing for talks with top executives over the Western Harbour Tunnel before its operators agreed to reduce tolls, while fees at two other harbour crossings are increased.
Chan did not say who Lam met in Beijing, but major shareholders in the tunnel include Citic Limited, an offshoot of state-owned Citic Group.
Under the plan put together by the government, tolls for a private car at the Western Harbour Tunnel would be reduced by HK$20 to HK$50. Tolls at two other, government-operated crossings would be increased to HK$40. The hope is that it will reduce congestion, especially at the busiest and cheapest crossing, the Cross-Harbour Tunnel from Hung Hom to Causeway Bay.
Lawmakers will take an indicative vote on the plan on Wednesday, but both government-friendly and pan-democratic camps have criticised the scheme. Chan admitted the government faced "quite a challenge" to win Legislative Council support, but remained hopeful.
"What we are talking about is not just the rationalisation of toll fares," he said. "We are talking about the efficiency, the ease of transport infrastructure; it's not meant only for private cars, but for everyone in Hong Kong."