Hong Kong will defer the start of “free flow e-tolling”, a backbone of the city’s future congestion charging concept, with half of private cars owners failing to yet order tags for the mandatory toll scheme.
The first toll system for Eagle’s Nest Tunnel, Sha Tin Height Tunnel and Tai Wai Tunnel will be deferred 10 weeks, from 26 February to 7 May.
According to government figures, just 430,000 car owners have so far registered for the tolling tags, with 240,000 applying automatically through vehicle licence renewal and 190,000 applying directly through the new HKeToll channels.
A source says the scheme has been “poorly organised and publicised”, with many taxi drivers unhappy about the new requirements. Many sources had predicted widespread congestion and confusion on the original deadline day of 23 February.
Transport Department (TD) said drivers had “forgot” the e-mail address or mobile phone number legally registered with their vehicle, which was causing delays, and that it was sending 800,000 printed letters out in the next few weeks, at a cost of around $2 million, to remind drivers of their personal details.
Drivers are required by law to notify TD of their electronic contact details and to update any changes.
TD says it will set up 20 consultation counters across Hong Kong to help drivers apply for the tags and set up HKeToll accounts, and will reach out to the taxi trade, adding dedicated service points to expedite processing taxi applications.
The government has already earmarked $945 million on installing chip readers and mailing tags to drivers, while Autotoll is being paid $871 million over five years to manage the payment system.
In January, the government said it chose the “tag” technology over number-plate recognition because Hong Kong had “too much congestion for number-plate recognition to work”.
“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 Albert Ho, TD’s Principal Transport Officer, at the launch press conference in January.
As such, every private car driver wishing to use any tunnel in Hong Kong must register for an HKeToll account and fit a special tag to their windscreen.
The system roll-out was originally slated to be completed by the end of 2023.
Transport Department has been approached for further comment.