Vehicles in Hong Kong drive too close to each other for numberplate recognition to work reliably, the government said today, defending a costly decision to send every vehicle in the city a machine-readable windscreen chip for its free-flowing toll system.
The government’s comments came at the launch of HKeToll, a $1.8 billion project to use RFID-chip technology to replace toll booths at government-owned tunnels.
Toll firm Autotoll won an $871 million contract to manage the payment system while the government will spend $945 million on capital costs of installing chip readers and mailing chips to vehicle owners.
When asked why the government had selected costly RFID technology instead of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), as used for London’s congestion charge and many other cities, Albert Ho, Principal Transport Officer, said Hong Kong was a unique environment.
“ANPR is a very accurate system but in Hong Kong sometimes traffic is very congested and when one car is followed by another car [closely] it is not easy to identify the vehicle licence plate. So it is more reliable to use toll tags, this is necessary for the special Hong Kong environment,” said Ho.
The tolling system will be rolled out across all government tunnels by the end of 2023, with motorists able to get one windscreen tag for free and link the tag to their preferred choice of payment.
The “free-flow tolling system” was originally heralded as a technology platform to enable congestion charging schemes to work across the city, but officials today confirmed the future of congestion charging in Hong Kong would be through adjustments to tunnel tolls, not through “zoned” schemes such as in London.
At a press conference, Honson Yuen, Assistant Commissioner for Transport, revealed that the concept of a Central District congestion charge had been quietly dropped.
“As regards congestion charging in Central District, I think we do not have the focus at this moment in time”, said Yuen.
“As a matter of fact, the congestion situation in Central District has been improving,” he said.
As a matter of fact, average car speed on Hong Kong Island was slower in 2021 than in 2003, according to Transport Department figures.