Law and Enforcement

HK$293M TUNNEL CAMERAS ARE BLIND TO SPEEDING, PHONE DISTRACTION

An abstract image of a high-speed pursuit through a tunnel, showing the road and blurred lights

Cars speeding through Aberdeen Tunnel will escape detection by a new surveillance system

A police officer uses a mobile speed camera on a tripod in Hong Kong

Police conduct a mobile speed camera operation on Hong Kong Island – they say they can conduct operations in tunnels but tunnel companies tend to carry out their own enforcement

Drivers speeding or driving dangerously through tunnels will escape the notice of a new HK$293 million surveillance project at Aberdeen and Tate’s Cairn tunnels, Transit Jam has learned, with the government’s proposed system missing speed cameras or other modern traffic enforcement technology.

Around 3.8 million vehicles use the two tunnels every month, but the government says hundreds of new cameras will be used only to check that traffic is flowing smoothly through the tunnels. AI will automatically alert operators to accidents or smoke, helping reduce response time to accidents or problems in the tunnel tubes, says the government.

There were 395 accidents in Hong Kong’s tunnels in 2018, 34 of them fatal or causing life-changing injuries. Driving too close, careless lane changing and using a mobile phone while driving are key causes of accidents, say police.

The two tunnel schemes form the bulk of a HK$317 million package signed off by LegCo last week, after lawmakers grilled government officials on national security issues, facial recognition and value for money.

Caludia Mo speaking in Hong Kong's Legislative Council

Lawmaker Claudia Mo raised issues of national security in grilling government officials over the new tunnel surveillance system

Claudia Mo and Ray Chan Chi-chuen claimed high-resolution camera images could pose a threat to freedom. “If the police request, in the name of national security, some footage, will you provide it?” asked Mo, while Chan raised the issue of the new HD-quality video identifying faces of drivers and passengers. “I think the public is worried, whether the face of the driver and passenger could be captured, [police can find out] who accompanied me and where?”

Yip Wai-leung, Acting Chief Engineer (Boundary Crossing Facilities and Transport Services), Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) said facial recognition wouldn’t be possible from tunnel cameras, as they only captured the rear view of cars – unless one tube was closed for maintenance, in which case the front view could be captured.

But Yip said headlight dazzle and the angle of the cameras would make facial recognition impossible in those situations. Lawmakers did not press officials on the tunnel-approach cameras, which would provide “full coverage of the tunnel area in open road sections”, according to government documents.

Dr Kwok Ka-ki raised questions over value for money and durability: the Tate’s Cairn Tunnel surveillance system has been operating for around 30 years, while Aberdeen’s has only served 15 years before becoming obsolete.

EMSD’s Yip said the disparity was down to the private operation of Tate’s Cairn Tunnel, which was built under a “Build Operate Transfer” model and only transferred to the government in 2018. “A commercial operator will try to save money, they will try not to replace the system as far as possible,” he said.

Kwok said the government should take a leaf out of the commercial operator’s playbook and try to make the new systems last longer, to which EMSD responded that 12-15 years is the usual lifespan in the market, but conceded the government would consider putting a warranty or durability clause in the tender documents.

Lawmakers also complained of poor FM radio reception as they drove through the tunnels. EMSD’s Yip said it was a relatively simple issue and the government would consider raising a separate project to improve the radio reception, which could be tendered and installed simultaneously with the new surveillance systems if approved.

The government’s proposals were passed by the handful of lawmakers present for the vote, with five votes for and no objections.

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