Provisional Legislative Council
Panel On Transport
Compatibility of Autotoll SystemsPurpose
This paper proposes a scheme to resolve the problem of incompatibility between the existing automatic toll collection (autotoll) systems at tunnels and toll roads and seeks advice on the way forward.
2. On 22 October 1997, Members were consulted on the problem of incompatibility between the two autotoll systems in Hong Kong, namely the Autopass and the Electronic Toll Systems (ETS) . Members noted that, for technical reasons and practical considerations, it was not possible to install both systems at the same tunnel or toll road, and there would be significant contractual implications if the Government were to impose changes to the current arrangements unilaterally. Members therefore urged the Administration to discuss with the autotoll companies to find a solution to the problem.
Discussion with the Autotoll Companies
3. Since then, the Transport Department has held several meetings with the two autotoll companies to explore options for merging the two autotoll systems. Initially, the two companies were not convinced that the existing situation creates so much inconvenience as to merit huge additional investment and development cost, particularly in view of the possibility of new technology options being developed in connection with the feasibility study on electronic road pricing (ERP) which might replace the existing autotoll facilities in due course.
4. Following further discussions, the two companies eventually came up with a suggestion to set up a joint venture company which can merge the two systems.
The Proposed Scheme
(a) A new joint venture company
5. The new joint venture company to be set up under the proposed scheme will merge the two systems into a single clearing house and replace all ETS systems currently in operation in Shing Mun, Tseung Kwan O and Tate's Cairn Tunnels, install a stand alone Autopass system at the LL and equip the new Tai Lam Tunnel with an Autopass system, all at its own expense. The total capital cost involved is estimated to be $31 million. The joint venture company will enter into new contracts with the respective tunnel management companies on the same terms and conditions as the existing contracts with ETS. All the tunnel operators and franchisees have confirmed that they have no objection to the proposed merger. It will take about 9 months to complete the installation works.
(b) Impact on tunnel users
6. Irrespective of the present proposal, the autotoll companies have planned to increase the monthly subscription fee for Autopass to $35, and for ETS to $25, with effect from 1 April 1998. If it was decided to go ahead with the merger, the new venture company has undertaken to maintain the monthly subscription fee at this level for at least 6 months after full conversion of ETS to Autopass. Assuming that a decision to go ahead with the merger is made in the near future, the fee will remain at $35 for another 15 months i.e. until mid-1999. Thereafter, any fee adjustment would be based on prudent commercial principles.
7. To existing Autopass users, the proposed merger will enable them to enjoy autotoll facilities at five additional tunnels or toll roads without additional charge. As for ETS users, they may have to pay an extra $10 per month, but in return, they can enjoy an extension of autotoll service to seven additional tunnels or toll roads. For subscribers of both systems, they will enjoy a reduction in fee of $25 upon merging the two systems.
8. Unlike the ETS, the Autopass system does not show the remaining account balance as the vehicle passes the toll plaza. To make up for this deficiency in the Autopass system, the new venture company will provide a free automatic telephone balance enquiry service for all Autopass users in future. Motorists will continue to have the option of paying cash or using prepaid tickets at tunnels and toll roads.
9. Both Autopass and ETS users will be able to use more tunnels through autotoll with the proposed extension. In view of the vastly improved benefits for both types of users, the proposal should receive general support from the users. Having regard to the capital investment involved, the fee proposals should be reasonable. In any case, the additional convenience is optional and is a choice open to the commuter.
10. The proposed scheme will not have any financial implications for the Government. An amount of $13.7 million which have been earmarked for enhancement of the Lantau Link (LL) toll system to provide electronic clearing house facilities for the ETS system already installed there at a cost of $8 million will not need to be spent, as the clearing house facility will now be provided by the new joint venture company.
Progress of Discussions and Next Steps
11. The existence of two incompatible autotoll systems has created much inconvenience to motorists and there have been calls on the Administration to find a solution to the problem. On 24 February 1998, the Transport Advisory Committee considered and supported in principle the autotoll companies' proposal to replace the ETS with Autopass system, subject to further implementation details being worked out.
12. Subject to any comment which Members may have, Transport Department will approach the two autotoll companies to work out further details of the new contractual relationship and responsibilities for the implementation of the proposed scheme.
13. We will further assess public reaction before going firm on the proposal.
14. Members are invited to advise on the proposed scheme.